In 2018, it’s very rare that we have the chance to see a player play with the same organization that drafted them for their whole career. This very rare phenomenon can apply to almost every major pro sport in North America and one of the main reasons is because of the salaries and the implementation of a salary cap. In the NBA, there was no salary cap before the 1980s and as a result, it was way easier for players of this era to stay with the same team their whole career. Since a salary cap was put in place in the 1980s, it became more and more difficult for NBA franchises to keep a star player for a very long time, safe the big market teams.
Every star player in the league wants money and to be paid at fair value. When they have a chance to become a free agent and make more money elsewhere, there is no loyalty. The same goes for front offices, as we saw in the Kawhi Leonard/DeMar DeRozan trade. Sometimes teams draft players high in the NBA draft, but they can’t keep them very long because the player doesn’t want to play for the team that takes him, or the franchise just sees an opportunity to get better, so those draftees are quickly traded. This list will revisit 15 NBA players who never played for the team that drafted them and 15 players who actually managed to stay with that team their whole career.
30 Never Played For Them - Steve Francis
Steve Francis was drafted very high by the Vancouver Grizzlies, 2nd overall in the 1999 NBA draft and Vancouver was sure to have found their new franchise player in him.
Francis never played a single game for the Grizzlies because he simply refused to report to the team and play in Vancouver.
The Grizzlies didn’t have any other choice and traded him to the Houston Rockets before the 1999-00 season in a three team deal. Francis had a great career in the NBA with the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, and New York Knicks.
29 Stayed - Tim Duncan
The San Antonio Spurs really hit the jackpot when they selected Tim Duncan with the first overall pick of the 1997 NBA draft. This has turned out to be a turning point for the franchise and Duncan played all his NBA career in San Antonio and he became one of the best players in Spurs history. He also helped the Spurs win five NBA titles between 1999 and 2014 and was the leader of his team and one of the most respected players in the league for so many years. The Spurs retired his jersey in December, 2016.
28 Never Played - LaMarcus Aldridge
One of the best players in the NBA in the recent years, LaMarcus Aldridge was drafted by the Chicago Bulls 2nd overall at the 2006 NBA draft. He never came close to playing with the Bulls because his rights were traded by Chicago to the Portland Trail Blazers soon after he was drafted. This decision would be really costly for the Bulls because Aldridge was named on the NBA All-Rookie first team in 2007 and he soon was Portland's franchise player. He became a free agent in 2015 and signed a four-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs where he is still playing in 2018.
27 Stayed - Larry Bird
When we think about Larry Bird, we are thinking about one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. We also think about the Boston Celtics.
Bird was selected 6th overall in the 1978 NBA draft and he played his entire career of 13 seasons with the Celtics.
He was a three-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, and the league MVP for three consecutive seasons between 1984 and 1986. Bird also participated in 12 NBA All-Star Games. That’s a tremendous career for Bird and his time in Boston was legendary.
26 Never Played - Kobe Bryant
It’s crazy to think that a legend like Kobe Bryant could have played with another team other than the Los Angeles Lakers. This almost happened when Bryant was drafted not by the Lakers like many people would think, but by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996. However, the Lakers made a deal just before the draft to acquire the rights of Bryant even if he was about to be chosen by the Hornets. Charlotte received center Vlade Divac from the Lakers in exchange for the rights of Bryant. The rest is history, and the Hornets probably still regret it today, even if Bryant was never interested in playing for them.
25 Stayed - Magic Johnson
Even if Magic Johnson was never forced to retire prematurely, it's hard to imagine he ever would have left Los Angeles. Magic was the face of the Lakers throughout the 80s, as he and Larry Bird's rivalry revived the NBA. After being taken first overall in 1979, Magic had a storied career with the Lakers. Even as an executive, Johnson has only been aligned with the Lakers. He was briefly the team's coach after retiring and he was named the head of basketball operations just a couple of years ago. Magic is truly a Laker for life.
24 Never Played - Rajon Rondo
Before being drafted in the NBA, Rajon Rondo was considered a can’t miss prospect. The Phoenix Suns were very happy to select him during the 2006 draft, but Rondo never played a single game for the Suns. The Suns traded him to the Boston Celtics for a first-round pick and cash considerations.
The first few years of Rondo's career with Boston were really successful, and he quickly became one of the best players on the team.
However, when the Celtics started to rebuild after the 2012-13 season, they traded Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks. Rondo has never been the same player since he left Boston and he changes organization almost every season.
23 Stayed - Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas played all of his NBA career with the team that drafted him in 1981, which was the Detroit Pistons. Thomas quickly became the franchise player for his team in Detroit and he won two NBA championships, was named the MVP of the 1990 NBA Finals and went to the NBA All-Star game 12 times. Isiah Thomas announced his retirement in 1994 and he soon after became the head of basketball operations for the Toronto Raptors. After an unsuccessful tenure, he switched to coaching, going on to have failed tenures with the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.
22 Never Played - Kawhi Leonard
Many fans forget that Kawhi Leonard was not drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, but by the Indiana Pacers 15th overall in the 2011 NBA draft. Leonard never had the chance to play for the Pacers because he was traded the very same night he was drafted for George Hill, who played for the Pacers between 2011 and 2016. Leonard quickly validated the Spurs' decision and he became an All-Star player very quickly. Even though his relationship with the team deteriorated this past season, the Spurs absolutely got a steal in trading Hill for Leonard.
21 Stayed - Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has fully embraced being the face of the franchise in a market like Oklahoma City. Westbrook was the 4th overall pick of the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008 just before the team moved to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 NBA season. During his time so far in OKC, Westbrook notably led the Thunder all the way to the NBA Finals in 2012.
He's stuck by the team in good times and bad times.
When Kevin Durant jumped ship to Golden State, Westbrook vowed to never do the same, and signed a huge extension with OKC. It'd be very surprising to see Westbrook ever leave OKC.
20 Never Played - Dirk Nowtizki
A player like Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t need introductions anymore and he has done everything he could accomplish for the Dallas Mavericks during his amazing career so far. The Milwaukee Bucks, who drafted him 9th overall in 1998 are probably full of regret to have traded him so soon in 1998 and the fate of the Bucks could have been completely different with a player like Nowitzki aboard. Instead, Dirk played only for the Mavericks and he helped them win the NBA Championship in 2011 and was named the MVP of this finals.
19 Stayed - Nate Collison
You wouldn't expect to see someone like Nick Collison find himself on a list of one-team players, but Collison in fact remained with the Sonics/Thunder franchise for over 14 years. Collison was taken by Seattle in the legendary 2003 draft, but missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury. Since then, Collison became a mainstay for the franchise and recently announced his retirement, ending a solid 14-year career with the same franchise.
18 Never Played - Scottie Pippen
During the dynasty of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, there was Michael Jordan, but Scottie Pippen was also a vital piece to the Bulls' run of dominance.
Before joining the Chicago Bulls, Pippen was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1987 but he never played for them.
He was traded to the Bulls soon after in exchange for Olden Polynice and future draft considerations. This trade was disastrous for Seattle because Pippen played a very large role with the Bulls for many years.
17 Stayed - Jerry West
Jerry West, aka Mr. Clutch, played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1960 to 1974 and enjoyed a very successful career as a player. He won an NBA Championship with the Lakers in 1972 and was named the MVP of the Finals in 1969. He was also selected 14 times to the NBA All-Star Game. After his playing career was done, West went on to coach the Lakers for three years and he won the NBA Executive of the Year Award two times in 1995 and in 2004.
16 Never Played - Bill Russell
The name of Bill Russel is synonymous with the rich history of the NBA and it’s not for nothing. Russell has always been considered one of the best players in the game when he was playing with the Celtics in the 1960s. Many basketball fans associate his name with the Celtics, but Bill Russell was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks 2nd overall in the 1956 NBA draft. He never wore the Hawks jersey, because he was traded moments after being drafted, in what is still considered today one of the most important draft day trade in the history of sports. Russell led the Celtics to an astounding 11 NBA Championships.
15 Stayed - John Stockton
One of the best point guards of all time, John Stockton broke so many records during his career with the Utah Jazz between 1984 and 2003. He still holds the record for the most assists and steals of all-time.
Unfortunately for him, he never won an NBA championship with the Jazz that's really the only thing missing from his resume.
He was a 10 time All-star, the All-Star game MVP in 1993 and was named to the First NBA All-Star team twice. His famous number 12 has also been retired by the Jazz.
14 Never Played - Kevin Love
Many remember Kevin Love's tenure in Minnesota, but they forget he wasn't actually drafted by them. The T-Wolves acquired Love from the Memphis Grizzlies, who selected Love 5th overall in the 2008 draft, sending O.J. Mayo to Memphis in return. This trade turned out to be a fantastic one for Minnesota and Kevin Love became the face of the franchise for several years after. He left the organization in 2014 to join the the Cleveland Cavaliers where he played along with LeBron James and helped the Cavs win their first NBA Championship in 2016. He signed an extension with Cleveland this summer, following LeBron's departure.
13 Stayed - Kevin McHale
We all know Kevin McHale as a great NBA coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves and most recently with the Houston Rockets, but McHale was also a great player for the Boston Celtics between 1980 and 1993. He played his whole career with the Celtics and he was a three time NBA Champion, seven time All-Star and was named the sixth man of the year in 1984 and in 1985. He went on to have a successful second career as a coach after his playing time.
12 Never Played - Vince Carter
Everyone knows who Vince Carter is and he was the face of the Toronto Raptors for six years. However, Carter was not drafted by the Raptors, but by the Golden State Warriors 5th overall in 1998.
The Warriors traded him to the Raptors for Antawn Jamison and the Warriors soon regretted their move.
Carter became an All-Star in Toronto and it’s crazy to think of what could have happened if Carter would have stayed with Golden State. Maybe they would have won a couple of championships way before Steph Curry arrived.
11 Stayed - Darrell Griffith
Darrell Griffith played his entire 11-year career with the Utah Jazz. He never won any NBA Championships but was named the rookie of the year in 1981 when he averaged 20.6 points per game. He was also named on the NBA First All-Star team that same season and his number 35 has been retired by the Jazz organization. A very great career for him in general. Obviously, this was well before it became more difficult for teams to keep their drafted players their entire career.
10 Never Played - Andrew Wiggins
As chaotic as the NBA is, there aren't many stories crazier than that of how Wiggins' career began. Prior to being drafted in 2014, Wiggins was the top prospect heading to the draft and the Cleveland Cavaliers took him first overall. He was supposed to be the player who would help the Cavs get back on track following the departure of LeBron James four years prior. Wiggins never got the chance, as LeBron returned weeks after Wiggins was drafted.
In a bid by Cleveland to become immediate contenders, he was traded to the Timberwolves in a deal for Kevin Love.
The Cavaliers made the right move by getting Love, but Wiggins never got the chance to play with LeBron (or Kyrie Irving) which would have been amazing to see.
9 Stayed - Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller's career with the Indiana Pacers was nothing short of a big success from 1987 to 2005. Miller was a tremendous three-point shooter and his great play helped the Pacers make the playoffs year after year. The only thing missing was a championship. Miller went to the All-Star Game five times and his number 31 was retired by the Pacers in 2006. Reggie Miller was also inducted to the Basketball Hall-of-Fame in 2012 and is one of the best players in Pacers history.
8 Never Played - Pau Gasol
Drafted 3rd overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2001 NBA draft, the older brother of Marc Gasol never got the chance to play for the team that selected him. Gasol was instead traded soon after the draft to the Memphis Grizzlies along with Lorenzen Wright and Brevin Knight in exchange for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The trade worked heavily in favor of Memphis, as Gasol had a couple of great seasons there and was notably named the rookie of the year in 2001.
7 Stayed - Joe Dumars
Joe Dumars was one of the best shooting guards in the NBA throughout his career with the Detroit Pistons from 1985 to 1999.
Along with his teammate Isiah Thomas, the duo formed one of the best backcourts in the NBA during the late 1980s and the start of the 1990s.
Dumars was a two-time NBA Champion with the Pistons and the MVP of the 1989 Finals. He was also very good defensively and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team four times.
6 Never Played - Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins, The Human Highlight Film, spent the majority of his long NBA career playing for the Atlanta Hawks and was considered one of the best dunkers of this generation. However, Wilkins was a drafted by the Utah Jazz at the 1982 draft, 3rd overall. Wilkins was not thrilled to be drafted by the Jazz and had no intention of playing in Utah. The Jazz were also having financial difficulties and they soon decided to trade Wilkins to the Atlanta Hawks for two other players and a lot of cash. We all know the rest of the story and how Wilkins became an important part of the Hawks.
5 Stayed - K.C. Jones
K.C. Jones was really lucky to play for an organization like the Boston Celtics for so many years and won many championships with them. He was also a very good player and it was in part because of his good play that the Celtics won an unprecedented eight consecutive NBA Championships between 1959 and 1966. He would retire following the 1966-67 season and he jumped into a coaching career, winning four more NBA titles as an assistant and head coach.
4 Never Played - Stephon Marbury
The Milwaukee Bucks seemed to have their franchise player in Stephon Marbury after selecting him with the fourth overall pick of the legendary 1996 draft.
Marbury was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves right after he was chosen, for the rights to Ray Allen.
Marbury played in Minnesota for three years before being traded again to the New Jersey Nets. Stephon Marbury played in the NBA until 2009 before flying out to China to continue his basketball career. He wound up becoming a legend in the CBA, leading the Beijing Ducks to three championships.
3 Stayed - Manu Ginóbili
Manu Ginóbili was still playing in the league in 2018, but he might decide to retire soon. He is now at the age of 40 and has been playing with the San Antonio Spurs since he was drafted by them 57th overall in the 2nd round of the 1999 NBA draft. Ginóbili is a four time NBA champions with the Spurs and he went to the All-Star game twice, in 2005 and in 2011. He was also named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2008. Whether or not he decides to retire in the next couple of weeks, Ginóbili had a great run in the NBA and he was always a great player coming off the bench for the Spurs.
2 Never Played - Ray Allen
Ray Allen had an amazing NBA career and ended up becoming the best three-point shooter of his generation. But many forget where Ray Allen was initially drafted. Allen was a draft choice of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996, but the T-Wolves traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks for Stephon Marbury, as mentioned earlier.
Allen soon made the Wolves regret their decision, by becoming a perennial All-Star player. He won two NBA championships, one with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and with the Miami Heat in 2013.
1 Stayed - Nate McMillan
Before becoming an NBA coach, Nate McMillan played for the Seattle SuperSonics from 1986 to 1998. He was the 30th overall pick in the second round of the 1986 draft and he was always considered a great defensive player during his career. After his career was done, McMillan became the head coach of the SuperSonics for a couple of seasons. He is now the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, a position that he held since 2016 when he took over for Frank Vogel.