The first time I was traded, I was completely blindsided.
It was February, the middle of the season, and my team, the Houston Rockets, was hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder. I went through my normal game day routine: put some shots up, took a nap, grabbed some food, went to the arena, took a shower and then started watching film. The coaching staff entered to give us their usual pre-game scouting report, and as I was lacing up my sneakers, our head trainer told me that the general manager and the vice president of basketball operations needed to talk to me.
This didn’t make any alarms go off in my head. I was in my third year in the league, all of them spent with the Rockets, and I was having my best season yet. I also had a really solid relationship with the GM and the rest of the front office. Sometimes they’d call me into the front office just to see how I was feeling about the team or even to ask my advice about draft prospects. Why would this meeting to be anything out of the ordinary?
So I walked into the GM’s office very relaxed and sat down. With the trade deadline approaching, I wondered if I was going to find out about a new teammate.
That’s not quite how it went.
“What’s good?” I asked.
The feeling in the room shifted.
“What do you mean?”
“We just traded you to the Kings.”
I didn’t comprehend right away. I paused for what felt like a while, then just blurted out the first thing that popped into my head:
“Who did y’all trade me for?”
Is this April Fools? Thomas Robinson? No disrespect to him, I understand he was a top-five draft pick, but still, he’s a rookie who hasn’t gotten consistent minutes on a struggling team! I’m a starter averaging career-highs on a team in playoff contention. We’re winning! Are you serious? This is bullshit.
That’s what I wanted to say, but it’s not what I said.
What actually happened was I thanked them for the opportunity to be a part of the organization, they told me to let them know if there’s anything else I need, and then I left the office.
When you’re traded, you can’t help but compare yourself to the guy you’re traded for. It’s partly an ego thing, but it’s also related to your perceived value in the league. The truth is, while it was tough to be traded for a rookie, there probably weren’t many people who would have softened the blow for me. It stung.
I walked back to the locker room for the last time. A couple of the guys asked what happened. When I told them, they were sure I was messing around.
As the rest of the team prepared for the game — a game I thought I’d be starting in — I left the arena in a car that was arranged to take me home. Immediately, my phone started blowing up — my agent, my family, friends. But I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I was furious. The hardest part might have been sitting at home that night watching the Rockets win the game.
A trade feels like a breakup. But like a tough breakup, my bitterness towards the Rockets faded over time. I understand now that it was strictly a business decision. And I respect the guys in the front office for doing their jobs. But how can you not take it personally?
When you’re traded, you have to learn to move on quickly. Within three days, I was on a flight to Sacramento. While I was happy to reunite with DeMarcus Cousins, a guy I’ve considered my little brother ever since we played together at Kentucky, I had trouble getting into a groove with the Kings.
Before that point, I never thought much about the human factor of trades. It was just a string of names scrolling on the bottom ticker on ESPN. Like any big career change, my trade meant being forced to leave behind really close friends, a city I was used to and a work environment was comfortable in. My game suffered. My shot felt off. I simply wasn’t playing my best basketball. As anyone who’s ever been frustrated at work can tell you, your attitude and productivity take a hit and it’s hard to dig yourself out. I was in a slump and I blamed it on the trade.
By the following season, as I got more comfortable, my play began to improve. And, guess what, that’s when my agent called and told me that my name was being floated around in trade rumors.
This time I was determined not to let the trade surprise me. I stayed on top of every possible story line. I kept track of trade rumors online. But, as I learned the first time, athletes are often to last to find out about their own trade.
That December, I flew my parents and one of my best friends to Sacramento and we went to the movie theater to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. (Great flick, by the way.) As we pulled up to the theater, my phone started blowing up with texts from friends telling me that I’d been traded. As I walked into the theater to pick up our tickets, my agent called, “Pat, you’ve been traded to Toronto.” To be honest, my first thought was, Damn, it’s cold as shit in Toronto. Then I started thinking about moving to a foreign country with a different culture and an unfamiliar lifestyle. It was a lot to take in.
But, I mean, it was The Hunger Games and I’d already bought the tickets, so I turned off my phone and watched the movie with my mom and best friend. Looking back, I think I wanted two hours of escape before returning to reality.
After the movie, we were walking back to the car.
“Yo Mom, I got something to tell you.”
“I got traded.”
She definitely thought I was messing around.
“I’m serious. I got traded to Toronto.”
At that moment, she looked down at her phone and saw a bunch of missed calls and an ESPN notification. It was real.
Even though I hadn’t spent very long in Sacramento and I had anticipated the trade, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t happy to be going to Toronto. The team had a terrible record, and it felt far away. Did I mention the really cold weather? REALLY cold weather. Coming from Sacramento, the warmest clothing item I owned was a fleece.
Not long after that, I boarded a flight to Toronto, along with John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, who were part of my trade. I remember as the pilot told us that we were about to descend, I pulled up the window shade and all I saw was … white. Just white everywhere. I’d been traded to the North Pole.
As soon as we got dropped off at our hotel, I called my agent and told him to do whatever he had to do to get me out of Toronto. He told me to give it some time and that he’d speak to the front office.
A few weeks passed and I start getting into a routine with the team. As my role got more defined and I got comfortable in the system, I noticed the team was improving. The weather certainly hadn’t changed and my phone bill was astronomical, but my skepticism about the Raptors was fading.
Fans and media were catching on, too. When I first arrived in Toronto, there were a lot people claiming we were tanking to get Andrew Wiggins. But then we started winning games. We beat Oklahoma City, we beat Dallas, we began protecting our home court, and the attention shifted from getting a top-five draft pick to making the playoffs. My agent called and told me me that he had a few teams that were interested in me. A few weeks earlier this would’ve been music to my ears, but suddenly I was thinking, Let’s see what this squad can do.
When I started getting to know Toronto, I fell in love with the city. If you come here, you will too. When free agency rolled around, I explored my options, but ultimately it wasn’t a hard call to remain in a Raptors uniform. I knew I was a part of something special here.
I learned a lot about the business of the NBA from these experiences, and a lot about myself. You’re not going to immediately love everything about a new job. But you still have to go to work every day and do your best. The less time you spend concerned with circumstances beyond your control, the more time you have to adjust and adapt. This I learned the hard way.
Out of respect, I think NBA teams should let players know if they might potentially be involved in a trade. Yes, the NBA is a business, but I think that would be a better way to treat its employees.
If you told me two years ago that I’d be a Toronto Raptor, I would have thought you were crazy. But here I am, freezing my ass off, smiling and winning basketball games.
I’d call that a fair trade.
Photo Composite By Alex Kayaian