Richardson redefines 'journeyman'

By Steve Aschburner ,

Getting traded once in an offseason is a big deal for most NBA players. Getting traded twice, that's kind of crazy. But getting traded a third time, and then a fourth time, all in the same summer -- heck, all in a span of seven weeks within that summer, with a whole month left -- is flat-out absurd and worthy of a Punk'd episode, yet a sign of the times.

Richardson, 29, a 6-foot-5 swingman and a nine-year veteran, woke up on the morning of June 25 as a member of the New York Knicks. He went to bed that night as a Memphis Grizzly. Three weeks later, on July 17, Richardson went from Grizzly to Clipper, only to mutate three days after into a Timberwolf. Last Thursday, the newest Wolf became an even newer, er, Heat. Meaning the former DePaul star has been with more teams this offseason (four) -- all without a single on-court appearance -- than he was for 601 regular-season and 15 playoff games (three).

"That's the funny part,'' Richardson said by phone Monday. "Everybody thinks I've been on some big tour, and I haven't. I actually went to Memphis to take the physical. I had gone to L.A. to take the physical but never did. Those were the only trips I made. And now Miami, when this trade happened.''

Not to be a stickler, but that's still three out of four. He skipped Minnesota in August, which means he probably wouldn't have been thrilled about being there the other 11 months.

With each trade -- even though it was apparent that his $9.3 million expiring contract was being shopped and moved, not simply his skills or know-how -- Richardson said he gave at least some thought to the new-kid-in-class feeling of joining, playing with and fitting in.

"Each team I got traded to, I looked at it as, 'OK, I'll be there.' And 'OK, I'll be there.' But when it didn't happen, you move on," he said. "After the first couple of moves, my agent [Jeff Wechsler] said there was obviously a chance it could happen again. That's when he decided to try to be proactive and get a situation that would be good for us.''

Compared to his way stations this summer, Miami is looking at Richardson as a player, in addition to his value as a salary-cap number who'll come off the books in a year. He has a chance to log minutes at small forward, where second-year talent Michael Beasley will be tried, and probably need help, in a planned shift from power forward. Some overheated Miami fans already are speculating that Richardson might start, though a backup role seems fine. Anything that keeps him out of a suit behind the bench.

"I'm an optimist about everything anyway,'' Richardson said. "I look at this as a great opportunity. It's a great organization. I don't think it could have gone any better. I've already got a couple great friends on the team, Dwyane [Wade] and Dorell Wright, guys I'd be friends with whether I was going to be here or not. So that's a bonus.''

Richardson spent two hours in and around Miami house hunting Monday. "I'm only going to rent anyway,'' he said quickly, anticipating the wisecrack. There is a punch-line factor here, the tendency to have fun at Richardson's expense over relocating so fast that even e-mail can't keep up with him. While Jim Jackson ranks as the NBA's all-time transactions king -- one draft, seven trades, five free-agent signings -- Richardson at least shares the record for swaps in a month. Memphis forward Darrell Arthur in 2008 was drafted No. 27 by New Orleans, then immediately traded to Portland and Houston before landing with the Grizzlies, all without ever playing a game.

If people are amused by Richardson's travels, though, he's fine with that.

"As a player, you have to be conscientious of the business aspect of it,'' he said. "I have a firm understanding of that. I'm not frustrated by it. I look at it, each team, they were obviously making those moves to improve, not to hurt me as a person or anything. They're just trying to better their situations. I'm not mad at that at all.''

Toward the end with New York, Richardson's playing time dipped and he looked out of shape. Still, he averaged 10.2 points in 72 games in 2008-09 and ranked 34th in three-pointers made (30th in attempts). As recently as 2006-07, he averaged 13 points and 7.2 rebounds. Now, in a league with max contracts and expiring contracts, Richardson is looked at as an expiring contract-to-the-max.

It's both fascinating and sobering to forensically track Richardson's trades: One day he's worth Darko Milicic and cash, the next he's valued equally with ZachRandolph. The Clippers got three players for him -- Sebastian Telfair, MarkMadsen and Craig Smith -- whom the Timberwolves essentially will have sent packing for none. They have no plans for Mark Blount other than to trade or release him, but Blount's contract is worth $1.4 million less than Richardson's. And while Richardson has the shooting range to pull defenders off Al Jefferson, Minnesota wondered if he might shoot too often, given his need to earn a contract beyond this season.

Trouble is, the NBA these days is long on players with fat contracts and short minutes. Because of trade rules requiring matching salaries (salary-cap and luxury-tax requirements), guys approaching the ends of their deals turn into "assets," separate and distinct from "players." Most teams have one or two fellows in house as Bizarro World redshirts, where they sit at the end rather than the start of their careers.

Some are good soldiers, some mentally punch out. Some strain at the leash until they get dealt, often to no change in their status. It might be easier for Richardson to say now, headed toward sun and South Beach, but he swears he traveled his imaginary itinerary this summer without bumps.

"That [expiring contracts] is a bigger-picture thing that probably has to be dealt with at some point," Richardson said. "I just hope I can be an example to anybody else, to hopefully take it in stride and be positive about it. When you're nasty and negative about something, nothing good can come from that.

"To me, it's all in fun. I'm unbelievably blessed to be in this situation regardless. I could have been traded however many times, but I'm blessed to have a guaranteed contract. There's not a whole lot to be feeling too bad about. I don't know anybody who has everything go the way they want it to be. There are people out here struggling a lot more than I am. Where I could be complaining about being traded too often in the NBA? In the grand scheme of things, that's not a big problem.''

Still, if things go well in Miami this season, won't he be looking for something special in free agency next summer? As in, a no-trade clause?

Richardson laughed. "I don't know, man. I think I've got the best agent in the business, so I think he'll get something in there to give me some comfort.''

An inflatable travel pillow might be a start.

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