Trials and Tribulations of Well-Known, Frequently Traded NBA Journeymen
Every year the trade deadline happens, and every year players around the league put on a public façade that they couldn't care less. The NBA is a business, they correctly say, and being traded is just a necessary evil.
But players aren't robots, and in many ways a trade treats them like one. Being dealt from one organization to another—and then having thousands of passionate tweets opine as to whether or not you're worth it—is a feeling very few people will ever experience.
For NBA players, it's almost always undesirable —yet, regardless of skill level, it happens to so many of them at one point or another. Wilt Chamberlain was traded. Charles Barkley was too. Moses Malone, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony—all traded.
Chauncey Billups, Stephen Jackson and Shawn Marion are three veterans nearing the end of their respective NBA careers. Each has been traded multiple times. Why did each deal happen? How did they react? More importantly, how did they adjust?
Currently on his seventh team (played in Denver twice), Chauncey Billups has been traded five times—and amnestied once—in his roller coaster of a career.
He's also been named to five All-Star teams and was MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals.
Billups is sixth among active players in assists and ninth in true shooting percentage, and he has a career PER of 19. While his resume regarding Hall of Fame worthiness is certainly up for debate, it's easier to build a case "for" than "against."
After being selected by the Boston Celtics with the third overall pick in the 1997 draft, Billups was traded to the Toronto Raptors just 51 games into his career. Understandably, his confidence was shaken. Here's what he told Grantland.com's Jonathan Abrams:
I had finally started to play well...The fans had started to embrace me and took me in. The team was all right, up and down. But I was finally starting to make my way and boom, the last day of the trading deadline, I get traded.
His first All-Star appearance didn't come until nearly a decade after he was drafted, which is basically an unheard-of career arc in the NBA. Billups started slow, looked like a bust, then all of a sudden gained serious momentum midway through.
But two years ago, after the New York Knicks used their amnesty clause on him, Billups let loose on a memorable tirade to Yahoo! Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. Filled with pent-up frustration and anger, Billups sounded like a man fed up with switching teams, especially after proving his worth as a consistent contributor.
Historically, these things never happen to the supposed great players and good guys. They continually happen to me, and it gets old. Listen, I feel I've been blessed in the game, and I've been given back, but these things start to wear on you. But there's not another guy in history who keeps dealing with this, getting thrown into these things to make the money right. I really believe it's because people take my kindness and professionalism for weakness. They think I'll be OK with this. I won't be OK with this. I've saved my money. I may just retire if I don't get my freedom here.
Billups is known around the league as an utmost professional who treats the NBA like the profitable business it is. But as you can see from these words, even he could only take so much. Switching teams is a serious life-changing experience.
There are players who fear changing teams, and then there's Stephen Jackson, a misunderstood malcontent who's been traded six times in his 12-year career.
Unlike Billups, Jackson is a player who never shied away from going public with his demands, asking his way out of basically every team he's ever played for (except the San Antonio Spurs, the one team that has him figured out).
Here's what Jackson told the Associated Press after forcing his way from the Golden State Warriors to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2009 (h/t Marc Stein, ESPN.com).
I wanted to be out pretty bad...Things were going bad. I was getting blamed for everything. I wasn't seeing eye to eye with the team. I got fined in preseason, which was ridiculous. It was just a lot of things that I didn't agree with that was going on.
Getting traded has never weighed on Jackson like it has for so many others. And while he seems to enjoy burrowing beneath the skin of general managers and head coaches throughout the league, teammates have seldom noted any problems with him.
"He's miscategorized by people who don't know him. He's one of the better teammates I've had in this league," said former Bobcats teammate Nazr Mohammed during last year's Western Conference Finals (via Robert Klemko, USA Today).
Earlier this month, 34-year-old Shawn Marion had some interesting words about the possibility of getting traded, saying this to Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas:
If I'm going to get traded, they're going to tell me what's going on and where I'm going. Because if I'm going to a (expletive) situation, I'm not going. It's just that simple. At this time, I'm too old to be trying to go through and be a, you know what I'm saying, not have a chance to do anything. I'm at a point where I want to be playing for something right now.
Of course, Marion knows better. Now in his 14th season, he once was on the other end, demanding a trade out of Phoenix midway through his ninth season as a Sun. He eventually got what he wished for and was sent to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O'Neal.
But it didn't stop there. Marion was traded two more times in the next six months, going from Miami to the Toronto Raptors before finally ending up with the Dallas Mavericks.
Marion didn't quite know what was in store before leaving the desert, as he struggled mightily to fit in with both the Heat and Raptors. Now he's with the organization and coach that got him his only NBA championship, and he's adamant about not being moved to a team stuck in mediocrity (even though the Mavericks aren't the title-contending team he seems to believe they are).
Marion and Billups are two players who've time and time again called themselves "professionals," and they've acted the part. But even after all these years, when faced with an uncertain future, their blood begins to boil.
Getting traded is no picnic, and Billups, Jackson and Marion can all attest to the fact that when you find the right situation as an NBA player, leaving it is never ideal.
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