After flying directly to Boston and joining their new team during the longest trip of the Clippers’ season, five days remained before they’d get to Los Angeles. It would be eight days before they could return to Memphis to pack.
That’s why Temple was headed to the nearest Walmart.
Temple, who also scored a pack of gray T-shirts that he’s still wearing, is one of nearly 80 players who were part of a trade since the NBA season began in October — deals that were life-altering transactions that energize the league’s fans and rock the players involved.
The second reaction was a version of what most players immediately think — what now?
In considering the big-picture implications on their seasons and careers, players think of trades no differently than fans and media. However, players who have been dealt must quickly consider a litany of other details — some mundane, others life-changing — rarely talked about at the trade deadline.
How will I get my car? Where will I live? What happens to my pregnant partner? Do I have enough underwear to last the next few days?
Oh … . Where’s a Walmart?
Maybe even more than a highlight-reel dunk or game-winning three-point shot, NBA fans love a big trade, rushing to social media and places like Reddit to devour rumors, to react in real-time to the news and to rush in judgment.
The pieces (aka players) being moved, often without much warning, tend not to enjoy the league’s transaction season quite as much.
Veteran guard J.J. Redick recalled a midseason move from Orlando to Milwaukee as one of the worst times of his career. Green left behind in Memphis a very pregnant girlfriend. So did Nikola Mirotic, who got dealt for the second time in his career in February, moving from New Orleans to Milwaukee.
“It was my family. Maybe it I was living alone, it’d be easier,” Mirotic said. “You grab the basic stuff and you move on. But I’m a married guy. My wife is pregnant. We have a son, 4 years old. It’s our life and we all have to move.”
It meant getting special permission from his wife’s doctor in New Orleans for her to travel. It meant finding a new doctor in Milwaukee, a new hospital, a new doula, a new birth plan.
“Everything changed,” Mirotic said.
For European-born players such as Mirotic, who is from Montenegro, the entire concept of a trade is foreign.
“We’re not used to that,” he said. “In Europe, there are no trades. … When you sign a contract with someone, it’s final. There’s no way they can move you. It’s a contract.”
In the NBA, there were 22 trades struck in the week leading up to the Feb. 7 deadline and each one began a furious search for answers — by players, their agents, teams and the players’ association.
When the Clippers are involved in a trade, Annemarie Loflin, the team’s chief of staff of basketball operations, initiates an email thread to handle the logistics of moving new players, along with their cars and belongings, around the country. Temple said he and Green flew to Boston on a private jet owned by Steve Ballmer.
Teams on the receiving end of a deal are obligated under the league’s collective bargaining agreement to cover a range of costs for newly acquired players, such as moving expenses. Players can stay in a hotel, no worse than the five-star variety teams stay at, for up to 46 days with the team footing the bill. The Clippers’ temporary digs are a posh Marina Del Rey hotel.
Among other expenses covered by the CBA, players can be reimbursed for either rent or mortgage expenses in a new city for up to three months after the date of the trade, up to $4,500 a month.
“The team helps,” Mirotic said. “Milwaukee has been really great for us, helping us do anything — moving company, they send us a flight, they pay for our hotel in a big suite. Basically, they do everything to make sure you can be focused on playing basketball.”
Such circumstances might not sound dire, but Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Assn., said few, if any, professions short of the military encounter such employee movement. And there are plenty of issues not covered under the CBA that are left to the players. For players who live alone, who takes over the old lease? Who collects the mail? Justin Holiday is taking care of both for Temple, his former Memphis teammate.
“There’s some level of, ‘Well, why should we be sympathetic; they’re so well compensated?’” Roberts said. “I’m not denying that they’re well compensated, but that’s not to deny that to be traded that way is not insignificant. Let’s be selfish, it might have an impact on your performance. There’s every reason to make that transition as painless as possible.”
Roberts had heard horror stories from players about what it was like to be traded ever since she took over with the NBPA in September 2014. Though the union’s regional representatives often communicate with players in need of help in a new city, there was no set policy. Establishing a set process stayed on the organization’s back burner for years — until the flurry of activity last month.
“I really felt that we were caught with our pants down,” Roberts said. “I was watching all this activity and I was depressed because I thought we did a disservice to our players not helping get, for many of them both traded and then the subject of trades, better prepared for that. I’ll fix it.”
Roberts’ proposed solution is three-pronged, and begins with asking players to investigate, through conversations with their agent, where they stand on the trade block. This summer, the association will survey players to create a city-by-city collection of recommendations on everything from good restaurants and barbershops, to reputable neighborhoods and trusted doctors for their families.
Roberts envisions a who’s-who guidebook of every team’s personnel, to help familiarize players with their new organization. The union plans to recruit liaisons within each locker room to help the adjustment.
“These are the kinds of what otherwise would be considered mundane things that we all have to contend with to get through the day,” Roberts said. “So that it leaves them to deal with the bigger issue of how do I adjust to this team and this new system and have it not be incredibly disruptive to my personal and family life.”
Mirotic, Temple and Green all went from teams at the bottom of the standings to ones that playoff locks or in the hunt.
“A lot of guys are happy to be traded,” Temple said. “A lot of guys request trades. If it was that bad, not as many people would request it.”
But basketball is just 48 minutes a night, a handful of times per week. Life outside the game goes on whether the uniform is new or old.
Green said he calls his pregnant girlfriend, and their 5-year-old daughter, three times a day on FaceTime. They moved in together for the first time four months ago.
“[The] toughest part is just being away from the family. Pretty much you’ll get adjusted to the team, but you’ll definitely miss your family,” Green said. “…We’d just moved in together as a family when we were in Memphis so I start getting used to it. Now that I had to leave again, it’s kind of tough. But the toughest part is just really hearing your daughter. She just keeps asking, ‘When you coming home?’