It’s autumn of 2018, and Philadelphia has just played an overtime game at home, with a clash coming in Memphis the following night.
It's the start of a three-game road trip.
So as Robert Covington wakes up in his hotel room hours before the Sixers take the court, it seems like a regular day in the league’s grueling 82-game marathon.
Until he checks his phone.
“I get up, start getting ready for shootaround,” Covington says, reliving the moment to NBA.com. “Brushing my teeth. Didn’t look at my phone until I was getting ready to walk out of my room. And next thing you know, I had (a ton) of notifications that were saying I had been traded.”
Covington said his agent was unaware of any potential deal at the time, and the veteran forward who spent four seasons in Philadelphia claims there was no heads up from the front office. So the first thing Covington saw when he reached for his device was an alert that read:
ESPN breaking news, Philadelphia's Robert Covington and Dario Saric traded to Minnesota for Jimmy Butler.
"That was all throughout my notifications," Covington said. "That’s how I found out.”
I had just got done getting a haircut, and then I saw it on Instagram.
Typically, players who have been traded initially hear the news from their respective team or agent. Dario Saric was included in the deal with Covington, and he found out over a FaceTime call with Sixers coach Brett Brown. The difference between the two is an illustration of what happens after a trade is finalized: Teams may have every intention to tell its players or their agents before reporters find out, but the lightning-fast news cycle enabled by social media can sometimes make that goal difficult.
Several current players spoke to NBA.com about when they first learned they'd been traded. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t always via phone calls from agents or front office representatives.
* * *
It's the 2017 offseason, and Grizzlies guard Ben McLemore has just gotten married. He and his wife are celebrating overseas, so he decides to share the moment with fans on social media.
It's the fans, however, who have something to share with him.
“I was on my honeymoon,” he said. “I was in Ibiza with my wife. I was on Facebook Live and then someone on the live [stream] said, ‘Yo Ben, you going back to Sacramento?’ And then my wife said something. She must have been on social media and saw. So I ended the live.”
McLemore found humor in the situation and was actually elated to be heading back to the Kings, where he spent his first four NBA seasons. The details were confirmed when McLemore received a call from the Grizzlies afterwards, but it was Facebook Live that provided McLemore the information and fans a chance to act as reporters.
Such would be the case for Jeremy Lamb’s followers on Instagram.
“I had just got done getting a haircut, and then I saw it on Instagram," Lamb said. "I was at home. I had just got a cut, and I posted the cut to shoutout the barber. Then people commented saying, ‘Dang you just got traded.’”
Lamb, who said the trade was “completely unexpected,” had just been drafted by the Houston Rockets and was eagerly anticipating his NBA debut. But three days before the 2012-13 regular season began, the former NCAA champion was shipped to Oklahoma City as part of a blockbuster deal for James Harden. Instagram, only two years old at the time, was the outlet that broke the news to Lamb and forced an immediate call to his agent.
“He said it was true,” Lamb recalls.
Facebook and Instagram are two of the world’s most popular social media platforms, and players have discovered some life-altering news through both. Yet, you’ll never see the phrase #NBAFacebook or #NBAInstagram, no matter how big a presence the league has on both.
That’s strictly saved for #NBATwitter.
I found out on Twitter in the locker room.
Considering the 10-letter hashtag and Twitter’s standing as the fastest resource for news in today’s society, it makes sense that players have found out they’re on the move through this rapid tool.
“I found out on Twitter in the locker room,” Jared Dudley said.
Dudley was in the Clippers’ practice facility during the summer of 2014 when his name flashed across his timeline as part of a three-team pact between Milwaukee, Phoenix and LA.
“I had just got done working out for the Clippers in the summer pick-up [game],” said Dudley, who would shortly learn he was heading to the Bucks. “I was scrolling on Twitter. It said I had just been traded. About 10 minutes later, I got a call from my agent.”
Dudley has played for eight different franchises, with several trades contributing to his nomadic career. The Los Angeles Lakers’ 13-year veteran responded to a tweet back in September from former Laker Josh Hart, who had just been traded to New Orleans. Hart wrote, “As a player you just want the courtesy of a phone call saying I got traded and not finding out on Twitter.” Dudley responded by saying that’s “not the nature of this business.”
Veteran guard Garrett Temple shares a similar state of mind, saying, “That’s the life we live in now.” Temple was traded for McLemore in the aforementioned Kings-Grizzlies trade.
Like McLeMore, Temple received the message via an untypical sender.
“The first time I found out was over social media, but I was cool with that,” Temple said. “My friend texted me and said, 'You going to Memphis?' He texted me Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweet.”
* * *
Learning from a close friend or family member that it’s time to pack your bags isn’t exactly an aberration either. Eric Gordon was once riding a bus with season-ticket holders when his brother texted him the news. Hart’s brother showed him Woj’s tweet while the shooting guard was playing video games. George Hill was coming out of a workout when friends texted him saying, “Bro, you’ve been traded.”
“Stuff like that you hear from them.” Hill said. “Sometimes you don’t hear it from the direct source.”
That alternate source can be a teammate.
Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chris Kaman were traded for Chris Paul in a mega-trade between the LA Clippers and New Orleans Hornets in 2011. As Gordon spoke with his brother, Kaman sauntered over to Aminu for a quick, candid conversation.
“We were all on the bus,” Aminu recalls, “and Chris came and looked at me and said, ‘I’m traded!’ Then he said, ‘Farouq, you're with me.’”
It happens. Before Kelly Oubre Jr. was a member of the Phoenix Suns, he was originally headed to the Grizzlies. That trade fell apart due to a rather bizarre reason, and Oubre’s destination changed the next day. But it was still teammates who let Oubre know his time with the Washington Wizards was over.
“They saw Woj tweet it or whatever, and then they told me when I got out the shower after we played the Nets,” Oubre said. “John [Wall] told me, [Markieff Morris] and [Bradley Beal]. They all kind of huddled around me and broke the news to me.”
They saw Woj tweet it or whatever, and then they told me when I got out the shower.
Oubre is currently enjoying Phoenix, but he still laments how his ordeal went down.
Many players struggle with the news itself when it comes to being traded, especially for the first time. It’s an utter shock. And when the public finds out before they do, without any warning to soften the blow, it only makes the experience tougher.
“If you’re working on trading somebody, let them know,” Oubre said. “Let them know beforehand when it crosses your mind. They want us to communicate if we’re sick or if we have personal issues at home and can’t make it to work, so let us know if y’all think you’re gonna trade us.”
It’s a fair point, that Oubre raises, but perhaps not pragmatic. Teams sometimes don't want to risk having a disgruntled player on the roster when a deal isn't even guaranteed to be agreed upon. Vince Carter is a respected future Hall of Famer, with a 22-year career spanning four decades, and even he has discovered transactions that included himself without a heads up.
Like Oubre, Carter was dealt from the East coast to Phoenix. It was 2010, and Carter became aware of the move through another unconventional manner.
“I found out through the [ESPN] ticker that I was traded from Orlando,” he said. “I was sitting with my family on December 17. We were watching TV. I just said, ‘Hey, let me flip through the channels.’ And then I thought I saw my name and I was like, ‘Hold up, hold up.’ I saw Vince Carter traded to the Phoenix Suns. That’s how I found out.”
It’s even happened to retired players.
Randy Foye laced up his sneakers for seven different franchises over 12 seasons. He found out that his first NBA team was moving on from him through an NBA blog site. On another occasion, a push alert from the NBA app revealed the news.
When the latter deal happened, Foye says members of the Denver Nuggets front office let him know that a trade could potentially go down. He remembers being told before practice to "just go downstairs and hang out in the lounge, and if it goes through, we'll be the first people to let you know."
That, of course, didn't happen.
“I’m just browsing the web looking at what’s going on,” Foye said. “Then, I put my phone down, started looking at the TV cause NBA TV was on, and I look back at my phone and an alert pops up. I unlock my phone, and it says, 'The Thunder acquire Randy Foye' … So I hear [some front office personnel] coming down the stairs to let me know, but I already knew. So I sneak out the side door. I didn’t have my car at the practice facility, my wife had dropped me off. So I typed in an Uber and asked them to take me to my house.”
Asked why he left the facility, Foye continued.
“I was giving them my all," he said. "Gary Harris is my young guy, and to be honest, they started playing Gary Harris more. They let me know during the second half they’re going to try to develop him, and I was fine with it. So I wanted to be traded, but I didn’t want to move because my girls were in school and my wife and family were there. So when it all went down, I didn’t really want to see anyone because I was there for a while, and I know it would have been emotional. Everyone handles it differently.”
* * *
When a deal is completed, the two front offices -- usually having done their business over the phone -- each notify the league.
From there, coaches, owners, agents and players are looped in.
“Each one of those people you talk to, you don’t know who they’re going to talk to,” said one former Eastern Conference general manager, speaking anonymously. “Very quickly, you go from two people agreeing on a deal to 10 people knowing about the deal, and [those] 10 people have all of their series of relationships.”
In addition to the amount of parties involved, the methods teams use to contact a player varies. A general manager can’t always pull a player to the side before practice, or be standing outside the shower with his bags and a message attached. When players are on the road during the season (like Covington), or overseas during the offseason (like McLemore), the line of communication is even more complex.
“Sometimes it’s the game of telephone,” the former GM said.
During a Western Conference road trip in 2007, Kyle Korver received an incoming call from across the country. It was then-Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski with some significant news to share. The only problem? Korver was asleep.
“I missed the phone call, saw it and was like, ‘Why are they calling me?’” said Korver, who then learned he was traded to the Utah Jazz through the voicemail Stefanski had left. Korver, a 16-year veteran who’s been dealt five times, had no hard feelings. “Teams honestly do their best to tell players first, but with so many sources, it’s hard for them.”
What makes it even harder is the unique swiftness of today’s platforms and devices. Practically everything moves quicker than it did when Korver was first traded. Despite that, learning on social media can still sting more than a call from an agent or team representative -- for some, at least.
For others, it’s just reality.
“How you find out is how you find out,” Aminu said. “You’re still getting traded.”
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.