NBA veterans open up about getting traded: 'It was the worst day'

NBA veterans open up about getting traded: 'It was the worst day'

For basketball fans, the NBA trade deadline is one of the most exciting days of the year. It’s fun to track the rumors, react to trades and root for your favorite team to make moves.

However, for the players involved in these trades, it can be very stressful and emotional.

Most players spend deadline day looking over their shoulder, and there’s a lot of anxiety and nerves around this time of year. There aren’t many professions where your employer can ship you across the country without any notice, but that comes with being a professional athlete.

To get a sense of what it’s like to be traded, Basketball News spoke to several former NBA players who opened up about getting dealt and what the process entailed.

RAY ALLEN: “When I got to Seattle, [here’s] the way the trade went down. I was in Milwaukee playing for the Bucks and we flew to Seattle, and we had a practice that day. It was coming up on the trade deadline, and everyone was talking about Tim Thomas being traded. So we were on the Key Arena floor in Seattle and the media came rushing in. I'm sitting on the floor stretching and I'm looking around and as I turn [toward the media], all of these lights come on. And I'm like, 'What's happening? We're about to have practice.' And then I turn around and I'm like, 'What's going on?' And they're all looking and pointing at me. I’m like, ‘Me?!’ [The media members] are like, 'Yeah! You!' So we're stretching on one end and the other team is stretching on the other end, and [Bucks head coach] George Karl is down there on the other end. I kind of look around and I’m looking up [at Coach Karl], and he takes off. So, I walk over to the media and said, ‘What’s going on?’ They were like, ‘There was a trade.’ I’m like, ‘Who got traded?’ They were like, ‘You.’ I go into the locker room and check my phone and it's blowing up. I got traded for Gary Payton. It was crazy to be traded to Seattle in the middle of the season. I go back [to Milwaukee], get my stuff, take my physical and fly back in. And my first game [as a Sonic] is against the Detroit Pistons. 

“I remember going out to lunch with Brent Barry, who was so great the whole time. He was such a jokester on the sly; he always had his little sarcasm that he'd add to any situation. He goes, 'Ray, just so you know, people aren't coming to the game to see you. They're coming to see the Barry brothers match-up.' Because Jon [Barry] was on Detroit. That was always Brett, with his dry humor. (Laughs) So, I'm watching the [Sonics'] film and Gary was ‘The Glove’ — everybody knew how ferocious he was on defense. In Milwaukee, we had schemes, and I was used to that. But watching [the Sonics’] film, Gary would come from one side of the floor and just start guarding a guy. And I was like, ‘What scheme is that?’ And they were like, ‘No, that’s Gary’s scheme.’ I noticed how the team was built around him, because a lot of the young players, they had kinda just waited on Gary to do whatever Gary did. So when I got there, Rashard [Lewis] was young and impressionable. We had Ansu Sesay, Reggie Evans, Jerome James and all of these young guys, and they all kinda just went as Gary went. So when I got there, I was like, 'Yo, get your shots up! I need you!' I was passing them the ball; I was flirting with triple-doubles like every other game. But I was like, 'You guys gotta [do something]!' They would just sit around, and I could tell the hole that Gary left — these guys were used to playing a certain way and kinda expecting him to do everything. 

“Rashard emerged because he started watching me come to the gym early every day and he would always say, 'Man, I want to make the money that you make and have the success that you've had. I really gotta start focusing in and taking this seriously…’ So, Rashard started getting to the gym early. He saw the work that I put in, and he saw that it was something that he could do and something he wanted for himself. I like to think that some of that money that he got from Orlando, he could have passed some of it [to me] on the side, but that didn’t happen. (Laughs) But he was a great partner to have because he did get significantly better — so much better — from the time I got there to when we parted ways with him going to Orlando and me going to Boston. [I never talked to Coach Karl about him running away] and since then, George has always taken shots at me through the media or in writing his books. It's just the strangest thing because I always thought that we had a strong relationship as a player-coach.”

ETAN THOMAS: “I have a story from when I was with the Wizards. I was in [general manager] Ernie Grunfeld’s office. We’re talking about me going to big-man camp because they used to send a big man down to Florida to IMG Academy to work out with Robert Parish and Clifford Ray. So I’m in there in the summer, and I’m talking to him about big-man camp. And I’ve heard a little bit of trade rumors, I’ve heard whispers and stuff like that, but nothing major. So he’s telling me, 'Yeah, you’re coming back from your injury, we’re looking forward to next year. We want to send you down to big-man camp and you’re doing all this stuff, and Robert Parish is great to work with and Clifford Ray is this, and we’re looking forward to everything with you and we’ll see how you and Brendan [Haywood] can work together,' and all this different stuff. It was this whole long speech, right?

"Now I’m driving from the Verizon Center home to PG County. I’m not even off Route 50 yet, and I get a call from my agent who says, 'You just got traded.' I was like, 'Are you serious?' I was like, 'No, that has to be a mistake! I was just in Ernie Grunfeld’s office like 10-15 minutes ago!' So, I had to do a U-turn, go back to the Verizon Center, clear out all my stuff, and then he shook my hand and said, 'Thank you for everything,' like the whole conversation 15 minutes ago never happened."

JAMES POSEY: “I was in my fourth season with the Denver Nuggets, and things hadn’t really gotten off to the best start, to say the least. We were 6-18 and knew we were gonna have our hands full that night. Our opponent? The Dallas Mavericks. With Mike Finley, Steve Nash, Raef LaFrentz and Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas was no joke. They began the season 21-3, so in our morning shootaround, we were definitely engaged. Afterward, I showered and changed, went back home, took my pregame nap and was on my way back to the arena. I’m driving and going over the gameplan in my head when I get a call from my agent. He said he was calling to 'check on me.' He asked me how I was doing and where I was. I thought the questions were a little strange, but didn’t really think much of it. 'I’m going to the arena, we got a game,' I said. 'You’re going where?!' And that’s how I found out I’d been traded. We were both shocked, and for the same reason.

"Nobody communicated with me. I was literally a couple miles from the arena. Getting traded is a part of life as a professional athlete. And fortunately for me, I was young and, outside of the team, hadn’t really had any family roots or ties to Denver. But that didn’t completely remove the sting. I just considered myself lucky to not be in a situation where I also had to move a wife and three kids in the middle of the school year. Not every player is that fortunate. One minute, you’re driving on the highway. The next minute, at a moment’s notice, you have to start packing and prepare to make a new life in a new city. It’s the hardest part of the job, and it’s one that we all accept. But damn. When I got the news — again, I was literally five minutes from the arena and had done shootaround that morning with my teammates and coaches — I had mixed emotions. My initial reaction was just genuine shock, and even though resentment might be too strong of a word, I definitely felt some kind of way. 'They couldn't even tell me?'

"I can’t speak for everybody, but I can definitely understand how being traded and not being told could make a player feel really disposable. Sometimes, people forget that players are people too. As far as I know, there’s no specific rule about when you are no longer able to communicate with the coaching staff or the front office of a team that trades you, but in most instances, there would at least be a phone call or a text message from your old coach or GM or whoever. Just a, 'Thank you for your service, we wish you the best of luck,' something like that. From Denver, I got nothing. All those thoughts and feelings raced through my mind in the 30 seconds it took me to process everything and turn my car around. Then, naturally, I asked my agent the question everyone in my situation would ask. 'Where did I get traded to?' When he told me Houston, I perked up and immediately pressed the gas... I actually moved in with Nick Van Exel after the trade. He had a crib in Houston, so I stayed with him. When I found out about the trade, I just packed up as much of my clothes as I could and went to Nick’s house. I stayed there until the end of the season, then I got my own spot. But yeah, if my agent hadn’t called, I would've showed up at the arena and they probably wouldn't have even let me in.”

DREW GOODEN: “I got drafted as the No. 4 pick in Memphis. Jerry West, it was his first year being the president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, and I was his pick at No. 4, and I would say three or four months into that season, we were stockpiled at my position. We had Stromile Swift (who was drafted as the No. 2 pick two years prior to me), Pau Gasol (who was the No. 3 pick the year before my draft) and Shane Battier (who was the No. 6 or No. 7 pick that same year) and then the following year, they picked me at No. 4. So we had a lot of young talent, but we just could not put the pieces together to make something right. I heard the trade rumors. Rumors are rumors until they actually happen. It’s funny, this story, because when I was hearing the rumors about me being traded, me and my agent had the discussion with Jerry West.

"Jerry West said, 'Drew, this is ridiculous, we have no intentions of trading you. Don’t read the papers, you’re going to be here a long time. So plan on wearing a Memphis jersey for a long time.' So I was like, 'Alright, that’s cool; Jerry West gave me a straight-up answer, man! We’ve got nothing to worry about! Let’s just see what happens, man, let’s ride this season out.' A day later, less than 24 hours later, I get a call from Dick Versace, who was an assistant general manager at the time saying, 'Drew, we’ve got some news.' He said, 'You’re on your way to the Orlando Magic; we just traded you for Mike Miller, the reigning Rookie of the Year.' And I was like, 'Wowww.' I was happy, don’t get it wrong, I was happy that I was traded, but I was like, 'Wowww, Jerry West just told me that I was not going to get traded less than 24 hours ago, and then he has somebody else call me to tell me I was traded?!'"

T.J. FORD: "The way I got traded, I felt it was just cold-blooded. Getting traded for the first time is just a unique experience. I got traded in the summer, I think after Hurricane Katrina and all that; it was when the Essence Festival was in Houston for the first time. Somebody bought my house and I was supposed to move out a week later, but they told me they wanted me out on Friday. Now, I've got an appearance in Milwaukee on Saturday that I'm supposed to fly to on Friday… So I get to Milwaukee and I speak at Michael Redd's camp, but he wasn't there. It was just a strange day. Who comes to somebody's campand then they ain't there? That just didn't make sense to me. [I’m thinking], ‘Gosh, something ain't right.’

"I ended up having dinner plans with Skip [Robinson], the public relations guy. He helped me do a lot of great things in Milwaukee. We go to dinner and I didn't really have no power at my house, so at the restaurant I’ve got my phone and my charger, but they’re not next to me. Skip answered his phone and he's sitting directly across from me and I just hear him go, 'No! No! You've got to be kidding me.' Then, he's like, 'Here, the GM wants to talk to you.' So, I'm like, 'What's going on?' The GM's like, 'How do you feel about going to Toronto?' I'm like, 'What are you talking about? Stop playing with me. Stop fuckin' with me. Seriously, what's going on?' He's like, 'No, for real. We just traded you for Charlie Villanueva and it hasn't hit the news yet and it probably won't tonight.' I'm like, 'Yo, Skip, he just told me he f*ckin' traded me. He must be joking with me.' So, I handed him the phone. I get my phone and I've got a bunch of missed calls from my mom.

"So I called my mom and she's like, 'Your agent has been trying to call you! He's been saying something about a trade?' I was like, 'I know! The GM just told me that he traded me, so it must be a joke or something. I don't know. I'll call you right back.' I called my agent right away. But before I was able to do that, they got a TV at the bar in the restaurant. And, remember, the GM just told me that nobody knew about it. But it had just hit the news. Not ESPN, I'm talking about the local news at 10. I'm like, 'Ah man!' It was the worst day, man. Worst day. I was hurt. That was a tough one… I was fortunate to always get traded in the summertime. I probably would've been really shocked if I had to move midseason. I felt like I was pretty blessed to get traded in the summertime, when you can really process it."

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