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NBA PM: Shortest Player Tenures

Many marquee players have had short tenures with a single team, just like Andrew Wiggins and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Just as we were getting used to seeing Andrew Wiggins in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ wine-and-champagne colored uniforms, Kevin Love’s availability allowed the Cavs to trade this season’s No. 1 overall pick in between the conclusion of Summer League and the beginning of the actual season.

There are pictures of Wiggins in official Cleveland garb, sure to be seen as novelties 10 years from now, but having played zero games for the Cavaliers, we have to consider this one of the shortest tenures on an NBA team in league history.

Had he been traded on draft day, long before getting fitted for a uniform or learning a new playbook or meshing with new teammates in Las Vegas, we might view his situation differently. Instead, all those No. 21 Wiggins Cavs jerseys are going to hang, unworn, in a lot of Cleveland closets while he presumably thrives in the Twin Cities.

At least Wiggins was with the team long enough to get to know some people. Wiggins is not alone, as many marquee players have had very short stints with teams. Here are a few of the most ridiculous:

#5 – Bob McAdoo, New Jersey Nets (10 games in 1980-1981) – The thing about McAdoo is that playing only 10 games for the Nets doesn’t stand out as particularly crazy because the man played for a grand total seven NBA teams before taking his talents overseas late in his career. The 1980-81 campaign, however, was one in which McAdoo dealt with a lot of injuries, so his midseason trade from Detroit to Jersey didn’t exactly end with much fanfare. When looking back at McAdoo’s career, his time with the Buffalo Braves and L.A. Lakers was most memorable, but his brief Nets tenure essentially has been forgotten.

#4 – Mark Price, Washington Bullets (7 games in 1995-1996) – Because of injury issues, Price was moved to Washington before the 1995-96 season, but those injury issues only allowed him to play in seven games for the Bullets, during which time he managed to average only 8 PPG. He played single seasons in Golden State and Orlando the two years after that, but his tenure in our nation’s capital was the only one short enough to make this list.

#3 – Bob Cousy, Cincinnati Royals (7 games in 1969-1970) – Cousy actually played these seven games as coach of the Royals six full seasons after retiring with the Boston Celtics. His comeback came late in the season with the goal of boosting ticket sales, which admittedly did jump 77 percent after his debut, but he only scored an average of 5 points in 34 minutes and quickly called it quits, for good this time. He always said it was a mistake to have come back and that he only did it for the money, but his return was, mercifully, very short. If only Michael Jordan could’ve figured it out that quickly.

#2 – Allen Iverson, Memphis Grizzlies (3 games in 2009-2010) – After the 2008-09 season, Iverson had a hard time finding a suitor for himself, eventually settling on the Memphis Grizzlies, who apparently hoped to cash in on Iverson’s fame to help depleting ticket sales. Memphis, however, felt that starting Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo in the backcourt was better for the long-term health of the franchise, so Iverson was asked to the come off the bench. That concept proved to be ill-conceived, and Iverson didn’t take well to it. After having played only three games as a reserve for the Grizz, he took a leave of absence for “personal reasons,” and never stepped back into the home locker room in Memphis.

#1 – Rasheed Wallace, Atlanta Hawks (1 game in 2003-2004) – Wallace started the 2003-04 season with the Portland Trail Blazers, the team with which he made himself an All-Star, and he finished it with the Detroit Pistons, the team that made him a champion. But how Wallace got to Detroit wasn’t as straightforward as most of the other trades in the league that year. He was first moved to Atlanta along with Wes Person in exchange for Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau, and he played a single game for Atlanta in 2004, scoring 20 points, hauling in six rebounds and swatting away five shots. Shortly thereafter he was re-packaged in a three-team deal with Boston and Detroit, but not before playing the shortest tenure of any marquee player in league history.

Honorable Mention:

  • Dennis Rodman, Dallas Mavericks (12 games in 1999-2000)
  • Penny Hardaway, Miami HEAT (16 games in 2007-2008)
  • Moses Malone, San Antonio Spurs (17 games in 1994-1995)
  • Bernard King, Utah Jazz (19 games, 1979-1980)
  • Dominique Wilkins, L.A. Clippers (25 games in 1993-1994)
  • Pete Maravich, Boston Celtics (26 games in 1979-1980)
  • Gary Payton, Milwaukee Bucks (28 games in 2002-2003)

There are also several other great players that stuck with a single team for just one season, but that’s not enough to get them even on the honorable mention list because all the guys above couldn’t even last that long. It doesn’t always work out, as Allen Iverson proved a few years ago, and there of course will be times when it doesn’t always work out again in the future.

Not that Wiggins did anything wrong to get moved. When someone as good as Love becomes available, however, other big names are sure to be moved. Unfortunately for Wiggins, it happened to him before getting play with LeBron James or even getting a single drop of sweat on his official Cavaliers jersey.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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