During his stint with the Nuggets last year, super-scoring guard Nate Robinson joked that he wants to be the first player in NBA history to play for all 30 teams. By the time he signed a 10-day contract with the Clippers last week, Robinson's counter was 'just' at seven. At age 30 with his skills dwindling, it's unlikely that Robinson will survive in the league long enough to fulfill this 'dream'. But there are players who have indeed been the NBA's true 'rolling stones', changing teams through trade or free agency almost as often as the calender changed years.
These players are the mirror opposites of the likes of John Stockton, Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller, or Tim Duncan, of legends who have spent their entire career faithful to one franchise. Nope, these are the players who were unsettled for the entire course of his career, never finding a permanent home, and yet, being in the league long enough to be (briefly) wanted by several different teams.
Chucky Brown was an NBA professional for 13 years, and somehow, he managed to play for 12 different NBA teams as well as two CBA teams and a team in Italy in this stretch. Drafted 43rd by the Cavaliers in 1989 (the team he eventually ended up playing for most) before being waived in 1991. After that, he was signed and waived by the Lakers, briefly played for Pallacanestro Firenze in Italy, was signed by the Nets, then signed by the Mavericks, and waived by the Mavericks. He played a couple of years in the CBA for Grand Rapids Hoops and Yakima Sun Kings, before making his NBA return. He was signed and re-signed by the Rockets, traded to the Suns as part of the Charles Barkley trade), signed by the Hawks, Hornets, and Spurs over the next few years, waived by the Spurs, signed back to the Hornets, then to the Warriors, made a return to his original drafters in Cleveland, and then played a few months with the Kings before retiring from the NBA.
Brown's career highlight was being part of the Houston Rockets when they won the second of their back-to-back titles in 1995. His best individual season was in 1995-96 for the Rockets when he averaged 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Unlike Brown, a career-backcup, Jim Jackson had the talent to entice teams to hold on to him. But after playing for 12 different teams in 14 years, it seems that Jackson's talent was considered just good enough to be trade bait, but never good enough to be a franchise cornerstone. Jackson was picked fourth overall in 1992 with the Mavericks and played his first five NBA seasons - the most stable period of his career - in Dallas. In 1997, he was traded to the Nets after five successful but injury-riddled years with the Mavericks. From then on, Jackson was moved to the 76ers, and then moved again to the Warriors before signing as a free agent by the Trail Blazers. He was traded from the Trail Blazers to the Hawks, from the Hawks to the Cavaliers, and after his contract expired, signed to play for the Heat, Kings, and Rockets in the early 2000s. He was traded to the Hornets, then traded to the Suns, and then waived by Phoenix. Jackson played his final stretch of his career for the Lakers in 2006.
A former college star, Jackson played the best basketball in his early seasons with Dallas, highlighted by a season where he averaged 25.7 ppg (fifth-best in the league) in 1994-95. Unfortunately, he was never the player after his ankle injury but still managed to enjoy a long and decent NBA career, averaging 14.3 ppg over 14 seasons in the league.
Tony Massenburg wardrobe could only be the basketball jerseys he had played professionally in. Aside from the 12 NBA squads he suited up for, the big man from Maryland also played for teams in Italy, Spain, and Puerto Rico. Drafted 43rd by the Spurs in 1990, he was waived just a year later. Massenburg signed to play for the Hornets, played brief stretches for the Celtics and Warriors. From 1992-94, Massenburg took his game abroad, playing for Pallacanestro Reggiana in Italy and Unicaja Málaga and Barcelona in Spain. He returned to the NBA when he was signed by the Clippers, and then drafted by the Raptors in the 1995 expansion draft. He was traded to 76ers a year later, signed for the Nets, went back to the Celtics, and was then traded to the Grizzlies, where he played his longest stretch. He was an added piece in the Steve Francis trade that sent him to the Rockets, before making a return to the Grizzlies a year later. Even then, the moving wasn't done, as the Vancouver Grizzlies then shifted homes to Memphis with Massenburg. In his last few seasons, he signed to play for the Jazz, Kings, and the Spurs, before retiring in San Antonio in 2005. After a failed NBA comeback in 2007, Massenburg played the last professional hoops of his career for Capitanes de Arecibo in Puerto Rico.
Massenburg's last NBA season brought him his only championship ring as a backup for the San Antonio Spurs. Individually, he enjoyed a decent stretch in Vancouver; in 1998-99, he scored a career-high 11.2 ppg to go with 6 rebounds as a regular starter in the lockout season for the Grizzlies.
A dozen teams around the league have tried and tested the 'Average Joe', but Smith - despite the regular movement through the course of his career - was anything but average at one point in his career. The College Player of the Year in Maryland was the number one pick by the Warriors in 1995 and started off his career by fulfilling his high expectations, averaging 17 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for two and a half seasons with Golden State. But after being traded for the first time to Philadelphia, his numbers plateaued and then began to decline. Smith played for the Timberwolves and Pistons for the next three years before going on a major flurry of trades that make him into one of the most-traded players in NBA history. He went from Timberwolves to Bucks (in a trade that brought Minnesota Sam Cassell), from Bucks to Nuggets, from Nuggets back to 76ers (in the Allen Iverson trade), was signed by the Bulls, traded from Bulls to Cavaliers, by the Cavaliers to the Thunder, was signed back the Cavs, then the Hawks, and then the Nets, and then traded from the Nets to the Lakers where he retired in 2011.
After making the All Rookie First Team in 1996, Smith never adjusted to life on the trading block, and perhaps the constant movement affected his approach to the game, to. He still finished his career averaging 10.9 points per game.
Mike James had had one of the most interesting basketball journeys, as a late bloomer who went on to become an entertaining NBA player for over a dozen years. Undrafted in 1998, James played for the USBL side Long Island Surf before looking for basketball opportunities overseas. He played for UBC Sankt Pölten in Austria and ESPE Châlons-en-Champagne and SLUC Nancy Basket in France before returning to America to play for the CBA's Rockford Lightning in 2001. In 2001, he finally got his big NBA break with the Miami Heat signed him as a free agent. James was then signed by the Celtics, traded to the Pistons, signed by the Bucks, traded to the Rockets, traded to the Raptors, signed by the Timberwolves, traded back to the Rockets, traded to the Hornets, traded to the Wizards, and then waived. He played in China (Zhejiang Golden Bulls), Turkey (Aliağa Petkim), and the D-League (Erie BayHawks) before playing for the Bulls again. Over his last three seasons, he has played for the Bulls, Mavericks, and the D-League's Texas Legends, where he is still active.
Mike James will be remembered as one of the most-overachieving undrafted players in the league, and in his heyday in Toronto, scored 20.3 points while dishing out 5.8 assists in 2005-06. James also played a backup role for the title-winning Pistons in 2004.
Now known for being an NCAA-title winning coach at UConn, Ollie can perhaps credit his understanding of basketball systems and players to the number of coaches and teammates he had during his 13-year NBA career. After playing two years for the Connecticut Pride, the undrafted Ollie was brought to the NBA by the Mavericks in 1997. For years, Ollie learnt how to pack light, being signed and let go by the Mavericks, Magic, Kings, the Magic again, 76ers, Nets, the 76ers again, and the Bulls. The Bulls traded him to the Pacers, he signed back with the Bucks, was traded to the Sonics (in the Payton-Allen trade), signed by the Cavaliers, traded to the 76ers once more (his one true NBA home), signed by the Timberwolves, and returned to his former Sonics who were now the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished his career in OKC in 2010.
Ollie was known to be a great leader and professional throughout his career, even though he never averaged more than 8 ppg (while with the Sonics) in his career.