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.
5. MICHAEL JORDAN to Washington
Mr. Jordan goes to Washington, a trip that ended like so many members of Congress: initial hope that became more misses than highlights. Still, wasn’t it great to see Jordan back in a uniform? Some are saying Manning shouldn’t play lest he become like another ex-Colt, Johnny Unitas, who spent his final year in 1973 looking awful in San Diego. That’s what was said about Washington, where the talk of a tainted legacy came up because of the contrast of the awful Wizards and the incredible Jordan.
But almost no comparison can be made because of the pure hype around the nation’s capital. This was an un-retirement like no other in the NBA â€” at least it was billed that way.
In his 142 games as a Wizard, he averaged 22.9 and 20.0 points per game in those last two seasons, and his turnovers per game in 2002-03 (2.1 per) were tied for the second-lowest of his career. The central reason we call Jordan the game’s greatest was for his playoff performances and six NBA Finals MVPs. Neither Wizard team even got the the playoffs, finishing 37-45 each year. It was fun to watch, but ultimately a novelty act. Instead, we remember his block on Ron Mercer.
4 and 3. CHARLES BARKLEY and CLYDE DREXLER to Houston
These two played two seasons together as Rockets, starting in 1996-97, a goodbye from established teams for both. While Barkley started in Philly, he became a bonafide star with his playoff run in Phoenix (a span that lasted four seasons in the desert) that got to the Finals in 1993. Give it up for him, though: He continued his 15-year streak of averaging a double-double and had his best year of 19.2 points and 13.5 boards in ’96-97.
Drexler took Portland to two NBA Finals â€” 1990 and 1992 â€” but lost to the Pistons and the Bulls before arriving in Houston, where he’d played his college ball. If you want to talk about pure scoring ability, check out Drexler’s line once he got to the Rockets in the final four NBA seasons of his 16-year career: 20.7, 18.1, 17.7, 18.7.
The All-Star pairing with Hakeem Olajuwon never got all the way, though. Get that trio together five years earlier and we might have been talking about a Big Three for the ages. Instead, they lost in the Western Finals to Utah, 4-2, in 1997. They really only had one shot and didn’t make it.
2. KARL MALONE to L.A.
It can be said for many late-career changes for superstars, but this just didn’t fit. The Mailman going to Melrose Place? Nothing about this seemed right in 2003-04.
While you knew Malone was committed to doing anything to win, going to L.A. seemed to step out of line with that. And yet, he delivered still. He did get a triple double at age 40 with 10, 11 and 10 and averaged 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds that year.
Los Angeles was achingly close to the NBA title that season for both Payton and Malone, but they lost 4-1 to the Pistons in the Finals.
1. OSCAR ROBERTSON to Milwaukee
After 10 years in Cincinnati the Big O went to the Bucks, where his first season of not-averaging 20 points per game started. That’s not how his legacy outside of a Royals uniform should be measured, though.
The four years in Milwaukee helped the Bucks win an NBA title in 1970-71 and get to the NBA Finals another time. That second time was a narrow loss for a second title in 1973-74, where they lost to Boston in seven games. Gauge Robertson most by what he did in those Finals years: He averaged 18.3 points and 8.9 assists, and 14.0 and 9.3 assists in ’71 and ’74, respectively.
He was aided by teammate Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, who like Robertson leaving for Milwaukee, would bolt in his own prime a few years later to L.A.
Which player faired the best on this list after he switched teams? Where should Manning go?
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