The grave for the one-team superstar is not a new plot. When the game’s best players stick around with one team for an entire career, it’s the exception, not the rule.
Kobe Bryant is the only player in the NBA’s career top-10 in scoring who has played with one team. His story intertwines with that of Peyton Manning up until this week: precocious young players who became MVPs and world champions, and whose own identities completely meshed with that of the franchise they played for. Lucas Oil Stadium was Peyton’s place; Staples Center is Kobe’s domain.
With today’s official announcement that Manning has been cut by the Colts, we look at the top 10 players who moved on late in their careers. Nine of the 10 had once been franchise players until their late-in-the-game move. None had overwhelming success in their new home(s), but we wanted to take a look back at how these moves worked out for the game’s elite players â€” much as Manning is in the class of uber-elite quarterbacks.
And who knows, maybe it’ll show Kobe the roadmap should he ever depart Los Angeles (We’re looking at you, Ric Bucher).
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10. HAKEEM OLAJUWON to Toronto
He really wanted to play. That’s all you can say for why The Dream decided to pull up roots and head north to play for a Raptors team that finished third in the Central at 42-40.
He played like the opposite of his superstar days in Houston, and became a 7.1-point-per scoring, 6-board-per grabbing non-factor for a franchise in just its sixth season. One of the sadder final chapters in an NBA uniform. There’s barely any video evidence of this season.
9. PATRICK EWING to Seattle
This is on the level of Olajuwon to Toronto after the former Knick spent one terrible season in Seattle before another in Orlando. The best thing about his post-New York life wasn’t even in Seattle: His one-year stay in Orlando set up a coaching gig for him on the Magic bench and allowed him to not pay any income tax.
In Seattle he was remarkably durable, playing 79 games, but put up 9.6 points per game and more than seven rebounds, easily his worst statistical year to that point.
I’d put a video here but the only one about his time in Seattle sounded like it was in Russian. No one should remember this willingly.
8. ALLEN IVERSON to Denver
The Answer wasn’t quite the solution in the Mile High. After playing his first game for the Nuggets on Dec. 22, 2006 after 10 whole seasons in Philadelphia, the former league MVP never got in sync with Carmelo Anthony.
Yes, he averaged 26.4 points per game in 2008-09 in his lone full season with the Nugs, but all it landed the team was a first-round sweeping by the Lakers in 2008. That was even more lopsided than his first playoff series with Denver, when they lost 4-1 to San Antonio in the first round.
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7. SCOTTIE PIPPEN to Houston
After a stalwart career in Chicago no one needs reminding of, Pippen shot a career-worst 43 percent (up to that point) and averaged 14.5 points in 50 games. Pippen’s defense carried over to the Rockets but his luck in the playoffs didn’t: The Rockets went on to lose 3-1 in the first round to the Lakers.
Pippen was more known in his post-Bulls era for spending four seasons in Portland. His lasting play there was a game-winning jumper with seven seconds left to help beat the Jazz in the second round of the playoffs in 2000. He had 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in that game, but Portland went on to lose to the Lakers in the Western Finals. That was the upshot, however: He never avereaged more than 13 points per game in his final six seasons after averaging no less than 13.6 in his first 11.
6. GARY PAYTON to Milwaukee
While he got close to an NBA title in 2003-04 with the Lakers, he’s slotted here because of his move to Milwaukee. As arguably the most traveled former one-team superstar, Payton played for four clubs after departing Seattle in 2001-02. His best year after leaving the Emerald City was an 18.2-point, 6.8-assist year the next season.
Of course, the unquantifiable stat that needs mentioning is that he arguably led the league in talking smack every year, even when he got out of Seattle. Actually, he wouldn’t argue with you over that. He’d just tell you.
Things got more strange when he headed to L.A. for one last go-round with the Lakers along with Malone (see below). Incredibly, he had two stops to go, in Boston and Miami.