‘A real shock to the system’: NBA players and the stresses of a trade deadline move

  • Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff WriterFeb 6, 2024, 08:00 AM ET

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      Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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Russell Westbrook felt a mix of emotions when he got the call from his agent last February.

Jeff Schwartz relayed the news that can completely turn a player’s life upside down: a midseason trade. But in Westbrook’s case, the news that the Los Angeles Lakers were trading the 2016-17 MVP to the Utah Jazz in a three-team deal came as a welcome reset.

“I was so ready to play [for a new team] based on the situation I was in and how it ended,” Westbrook told ESPN about that deal on Feb. 9, 2023, the third time he had been traded in his 15-year career.

Westbrook took his share of criticism for things not working out with the Lakers alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He was ready for a fresh start and said he was initially prepared to report to Utah. But Schwartz and the Jazz began working on a buyout over the remaining $47 million on Westbrook’s final year of his deal.

“A lot of different emotions. But happy for sure. There just was so much going on at that time,” Westbrook said.

At first, Westbrook enjoyed rare time at home with his kids, dropping them off at school. But as the buyout and search for a new team dragged on, a restless Westbrook flew to Las Vegas. He worked out with his trainer three times a day during a four-day minicamp.

“Just to clear my mind,” Westbrook said. “It was more like a mental release. … Getting ready because my road can be different here, anywhere.”

After agreeing to the buyout with the Jazz, Westbrook found a new team without having to move, signing with the LA Clippers on Feb. 22.

“I felt like the joy [was] back [of] having fun playing again,” Westbrook said of joining the Clippers.

The majority of players traded by the midseason deadline, which is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET, aren’t as fortunate as Westbrook when deals happen. Even if they are the center of trade rumors for weeks, there’s often no time to digest the sudden shift.

Players typically have a day or two to report to their new team, pass a physical and try to figure out how to move their families, pets, cars, sneakers, or — for those traded to the Toronto Raptors — acquire a work visa.

Many end up spending the remainder of the season living in a hotel, turning their luxury rooms into storage units. And then there’s the basketball side of learning a new playbook and new teammates.

“People think that we [have control],” Westbrook said of players dictating where they are going to, “but we definitely don’t.”


Bruce Brown was working out in a Sacramento hotel at noon on Jan. 17 when he was informed he had been traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Raptors.

Eight hours later, he was on a plane flying back to Indiana, where he packed as much as he could, including his passport, for Canada. Unfortunately, he didn’t have room for some of his favorite items: his cowboy hats.

Brown thought he might have found a new home when he signed a two-year, $45 million deal with the Pacers last June after winning the NBA title with the Denver Nuggets. But here he was, on the move again just six months later to join his fifth team in as many seasons.

“You got to get up and go,” Brown told ESPN. “Since I’m going to Toronto … I had to get a Canadian work visa. The Raptors were great. As soon as I got in, they already had everything set up for me.”

Brown stuffed three pairs of shoes, the Birkenstocks he wears daily and as much warm clothing as he could into two suitcases. Two weeks later, a friend brought three of the more than 20 cowboy hats Brown owns to Toronto.

For RJ Barrett, one of Brown’s new teammates, Toronto is home. Barrett, who was born and raised in the area, packed two bags after being traded by the New York Knicks to the Raptors on Dec. 30.

“It was just a confusing day — emotionally, obviously,” Barrett told ESPN. “I was happy coming here, but then definitely felt a little weird being traded from a place that I had been for 4½ years. So it was mixed emotions.”

Barrett grabbed another suitcase when he returned to New York for a Raptors game against the Knicks on Jan. 20. And because Toronto is less than an eight-hour drive from New York, Barrett’s family drove his car and his four French bulldogs to him.

“Being comfortable with the places you’re at helps a lot,” Barrett said. “It eliminates a lot of things that you think or don’t think about.”

Brown found another way to make Toronto feel more personal. The guard acquired his favorite No. 11 from Jontay Porter, one of the team’s two-way players, for $10,000 — a small price to pay as that number was retired for Isiah Thomas when he was with the Detroit Pistons and was worn by Kyrie Irving when Brown was with the Brooklyn Nets.

“That number means a lot to me,” Brown said. “So whenever I get a chance to wear it, I’ll do what I got to do to get it.”

Brown knows it’s possible he could be switching jerseys again before Thursday’s deadline, even though he said Raptors president Masai Ujiri has told him he wants him to remain a Raptor.

“Obviously, if [the Raptors] get a crazy deal for me,” Brown said, “then I’m sure the way they’re [rebuilding], he’ll probably take it.

“I’ve been on four teams in three years. The people that you see and talk to every day, it sucks [leaving]. [But the Pacers] were nothing but great to me. They gave me a big opportunity to change my life. I’m very grateful. So I’m not mad at them.”


After his trade from the Jazz to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the Westbrook deal last February, point guard Mike Conley showed his children on a map where he would be playing basketball and that “Daddy’s going to go out of town again but this time for a while on a different team.”

“It’s a real shock to the system,” Conley told ESPN. “We’re all routine-based as humans, and you just get used to being in the same places and seeing your kids after school, picking them up, and then out of nowhere somebody calls you [to say] ‘Hey, you are going 2,000 miles over here.'”

The veteran guard moved into the Four Seasons in Minneapolis for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. He crammed six bags and as many boxes as he could into the hotel room.

“You had to really kind of get skinny to get through the door,” Conley said. “There was no place to put food. It was just crazy. …

“It’s like you’re playing [home] games, [but] you’re still on the road.”

Josh Hart was informed on the floor during team warmups 20 minutes before a game on Feb. 8, 2023, that the Portland Trail Blazers were trading him to the Knicks, the second straight season in which he was dealt near the deadline. But this was the first time with a wife carrying twins.

“Last year was a little bit more difficult,” Hart told ESPN. “Just because my wife was 20-something weeks pregnant with twins. So trying to figure out where we’re staying, trying to figure out what OB-GYN she’s going to. I got dogs, how to get my dogs there. So it’s just a bunch of stuff.”

Fortunately for Hart, his wife, Shannon, delivered two healthy babies, Hendrix and Haze, last May. On Aug. 17, Hart signed a four-year, $81 million extension — meaning he can’t be traded within six months of the new deal’s date.

“Almost every year my name’s been in the trade talks,” said Hart, who has been traded four times, including on draft night in 2017. “This is the first trade deadline I’m just kind of vibing, relaxing.”

Norman Powell thought he’d be doing the same in February 2022. After signing a five-year, $90 million deal with the Trail Blazers in the previous offseason, Powell figured it was safe to buy a house in Portland.

Three weeks in his new home and the day after his furniture was delivered, Powell was sent to the Clippers — the second straight year he’d been traded at midseason.

During the 2020-21 season, Powell was with the Raptors when they relocated to Tampa due to COVID-19 restrictions. Renting a home from Major League Baseball player Josh Donaldson, Powell was initially assured by his agent he wouldn’t be traded — only to end up in Portland.

“It’s just surrealism,” Powell told ESPN. “You don’t think it’s real, and then it’s a mix of emotions of the unknown. What’s next? You’re kind of scared.

“You start thinking what it’s going to be like at the other team. Why? Is there something that you could have done differently?”

When he arrived in Los Angeles after the second trade, he was set up in an executive suite at a Ritz-Carlton, where he lived out of six suitcases. He had his shoes laid out in front of the couch, the hotel closet overflowing with clothes.

“If you do dry cleaning and things like that, it’s so expensive,” Powell said. “So I was doing that for a whole two months, going to the laundromat, washing your clothes, eating out a lot, trying to find a meal service so you’re not eating room service or fast food.”

Unfortunately for Powell, his experience living at the Ritz proved costlier after an incident with the hotel valet.

“They crashed my Porsche Taycan,” Powell said. “So going through all that, it was like a little whirlwind of events. It’s crazy.”

Sometimes news of being traded isn’t enough for a player to stop playing a video game. Devonte’ Graham was playing “Call of Duty” when he was moved before last year’s Feb. 9 deadline. With an hour to go before the deadline, Graham’s agent told him he didn’t think there would be any trades involving the point guard.

But with 15 minutes left, the New Orleans Pelicans sent him to the San Antonio Spurs. Graham wasn’t fazed. In fact, he kept playing the video game until his girlfriend at the time asked if he needed to get ready to join his new team.

“Once I realized it was 2:45 [p.m.] and got a call saying, you got to be on a flight at 6 and meet us in Detroit,” Graham said. “And you’re coming into a whole different team, new coaches, you got to relearn everybody again and come into a new system. It could be overwhelming.”


P.J. Tucker woke up to a flurry of text messages from friends around 3 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2023, saying he was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Clippers.

Since then, he has fallen out of the rotation and has played in just 12 games. He’s been a mentor to the younger players but wants to play — telling ESPN that he is “actively trying to get traded.”

If Tucker does move on, the Clippers’ equipment crew will have to assist the NBA’s sneaker king in transporting more than 250 pairs to yet another location.

“P.J.’s kind of like an anomaly,” Max Reza, the Clippers’ executive director of team operations, told ESPN. “When we traded for Bones [Hyland] last year, he had 10 pairs [shipped from Denver]. I would say on average you’re transporting about 20.”

Reza’s counterparts in Philadelphia packed Tucker’s game shoes into a dozen of the largest boxes they could find. When they arrived two days after the trade, Reza and his staff “were dizzy” packing each pair into individual shoeboxes and organizing them in their equipment room.

They labeled and arranged the shoes by models — including Kobes, KDs, LeBrons, Kyries and G.T. among other lines — on four bays of industrial shelving.

“It’s like we opened up a Foot Locker from scratch,” said Reza, who has been with the Clippers for 13 years. “It was the craziest amount of shoes that I’ve ever inherited.

“It’s been fun seeing all the PEs [player exclusives], all the one-of-ones he has, all the special editions that only a handful of people in the world have.”

Those shoes don’t even include the enormous inventory of sneakers Tucker wears walking into the arena on game day, a treasure trove split between homes in Houston and Philadelphia. For those, Tucker FaceTimes with his assistant — who will be at one of his houses — to see which sneakers are next to ship or bring to Los Angeles.

Tucker recently had “a bunch of my old Kobes that I wanted, that I kind of forgot were there” sent from Houston.

He added it was “impossible” to bring all of his shoes, but he managed to pack an additional 100 pairs with him onto the private jet to L.A. from Philadelphia after the trade.

Wherever his shoes may end up should he be dealt again, Tucker said he never gets used to being traded.

“You change your life at a drop of a dime,” Tucker said. “Where you live, especially when it’s cross country, ain’t nothing like it. If you’ve never experienced it or went through it, you’d never understand it. Your kids are changing schools.

“Your whole entire life changes. In 24 hours, you are playing for another team in another city. Getting all your stuff, uprooting your entire life.”

With additional reporting from ESPN writers Andrew Lopez and Tim MacMahon.