It’s very rare for an NBA player to spend his entire career with one franchise. Sure, it’s been done on numerous occasions and some of the best players in the history of the league were able to say that they spent their entire career with the team that selected them in the NBA draft. But more often than not, whether via free agency or trade, players end up wearing more than one uniform. And we’ll be focusing on the latter today as we look at the players who were traded the most.
Just so we’re clear, this isn’t a list of players that played for the most NBA teams. If someone signed with a team in free agency, that obviously doesn’t count as a trade. For example, Jim Jackson is tied with three others atop the list of most franchises played for with 12 but he arrived on just seven of those teams via trade. The same can be said for former number one overall pick Joe Smith, who was also traded seven times and played for a dozen different teams. Makes sense, right?
Now, you might think that getting traded seven times is a lot and you’d be right. However, that’s not the most. But you don’t have to go much further to get there as the four players who were traded the most in NBA history were shipped out eight times.
And just who are these four travelers? Here they are in alphabetical order.
Former sharpshooter Dale Ellis was taken with the ninth overall pick in the 1983 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks, with whom he played three seasons. He was traded to the Seattle Supersonics in July 1986 and spent four and a half seasons with the team, including his lone All-Star season in 1988-1989, before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in February 1991.
Ellis remained with the Bucks until June 1992, at which point he was traded to San Antonio. He played two seasons with the Spurs and then signed with the Denver Nuggets as a free agent in October 1994. He was traded back to Seattle in October 1997 and played two more seasons with the Sonics before being traded to Orlando in June 1999.
However, Ellis didn’t play one game for the Magic as he was traded back to Milwaukee about six weeks later. After playing just 18 games for the Bucks, he was dealt to the Charlotte Hornets in January 2000. In August 2000, Dale Ellis was traded to Miami but never suited up for the Heat as he was placed on waivers just before the start of the 2000-2001 season, at which point he retired from the NBA.
You could almost say that Chris Gatling was traded nine times as the pick that was used on him in the 1991 NBA draft was sent to Golden State by Philadelphia in the transaction that landed the 76ers Manute Bol the year before. But we’ll let that go. The Warriors took Gatling with the 16th pick of the ’91 draft and employed him for four and a half seasons before trading him to Miami in February 1996 in the same deal that sent Tim Hardaway to the Heat.
In July 1996, Gatling signed in Dallas but didn’t last long with the Mavericks, who traded him to the New Jersey Nets in February 1997. Just over two years later, in March 1999, he was moved to Milwaukee in the deal that brought Stephon Marbury to the Nets. That August, Gatling was traded to Orlando in the deal that sent Dale Ellis to the Bucks for the second time.
In February 2000, Chris Gatling was traded to Denver and finished the season with the Nuggets before being traded back to Miami that August. Just over two months later, he was acquired by Cleveland but spent just one season with the Cavs before being shipped back to the Heat in October 2001 in a sign and trade. Gatling retired a year later.
The first two trades involving Don MacLean took place before he ever played his first NBA game. He was taken with the 19th pick in the 1992 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons and then traded to the LA Clippers that same night. In October 1992, MacLean was traded to the Washington Bullets, with whom he played three seasons before being traded to Denver in October 1995. He played one season with the Nuggets and then signed with the 76ers as a free agent in July 1996.
After one season in Philly, MacLean was dealt to the Nets in June 1997. He played a season and a half in New Jersey and was then traded three times in 1999. He was traded to the Supersonics in January, to the Magic in June, and then to the Rockets in August in the three-team deal that sent Steve Francis to Houston. The Rockets waived MacLean ahead of the 1999-2000 season and he signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Suns.
In September 2000, he signed with the Miami Heat but was traded to Toronto a year later. The Raptors waived him before the 2001-2002 season and he retired from the NBA in November 2001. Of the eight trades in which he was involved, Don MacLean only suited up for four of the teams that acquired him. He also holds the dubious distinction of being the first player in NBA history to be suspended for steroid use.
An All-American out of Syracuse, Billy Owens was taken with the third overall pick in the 1991 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings. But after holding out in training camp and into the regular season, Owens was traded to the Golden State Warriors for Mitch Richmond in November 1991. After three seasons with the Dubs, Owens was traded to Miami in November 1994. He played a season and a half with the Heat and then finally suited up for the team that drafted him when the Kings acquired him via trade in February 1996.
Owens signed with the Supersonics just ahead of the lockout-shortened 1999 campaign and was then traded five times in the span of 14 months. In June 1999, he was traded to the Magic in the deal that also involved Dale Ellis and Don MacLean. Six weeks later, he was traded to the 76ers. In February 2000, Owens was dealt back to Golden State and finished the season with the Warriors. In June 2000, he was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks, who then dealt Owens to the Pistons in August. He didn’t play the 2001-2002 season but signed with Portland Trail Blazers in September 2002. Owens was waived nine days later and retired.
Trade info courtesy of RealGM