Ish Smith has played for 13 teams, been traded 7 times and is close to his first title

Ish Smith has dressed for an NBA record 13 different teams, nearly half the league, during his 13-year career.

The No. 13 team, the Denver Nuggets, have really been lucky for the longtime point guard whose journey has included seven trades, six trades and two early stints in the G-League.

The road well traveled for Ish (full name: Ishmael) has led him here, his first NBA Finals as the Nuggets come within one win of the franchise’s first championship. With a 3-1 lead over Miami, the team could win Monday night at home in Game 5.

It matters little that Smith, who turns 35 next month, didn’t play much in the playoffs, or not at all in the Finals. He’s content to have the best seat in the house on the bench and do what he’s always done so well: cheer. He has become the assistant coach type of presence and a voice that resonates throughout the locker room.

“When you can have veterans who are truly selfless and don’t worry about, ‘Hey, I’m not in the playoff rotation,’ but they’re still committed to the team and the success of the team and willing to use their voice in a positive way. , that’s really shocking,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Smith broke into the league in 2010 with the Houston Rockets as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest. One of his teammates at the time was Heat guard Kyle Lowry, who to this day affectionately refers to Smith as “Rook,” short for rookie.

“He is a guy who persevered. He wasn’t the best shooter, he wasn’t the best at it, but he just found a way to find a place in this league and find a place on every team that he’s been on,” Lowry said. “And being a great veteran, a great veteran presence, a great positive vibe for every team he’s played for.

“Thirteen teams is a lot of teams, but obviously he has done his job. He…he has done the right thing.”

In addition to Houston and Denver, Smith’s 30-team NBA tour includes stops in Memphis, Golden State, Orlando, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Detroit, Washington and Charlotte. He appeared in 43 games during the regular season for the Nuggets. In the Finals, his role has been reduced to more of a motivator.

Other veteran sages also chime in.

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There’s DeAndre Jordan, 34, Reggie Jackson, 33, and Jeff Green, 36, who is an integral part of the second unit. The Nuggets have won two in a row since he hosted a team dinner at his home in Miami before Game 3.

“When they talk, everybody listens because if you listen to them, you can hear some really smart things that can help you play the game,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said. “I really appreciate them and I am very grateful for them.”

Throughout his career, Smith played all kinds of roles (he started 50 games in Philadelphia in 2015-16 when he averaged a career-high 14.7 points) and wore 10 different uniform numbers. His favorite is number 14, which is his current number.

Somewhere, Smith has his vast collection of past jerseys. They’re probably at his mother’s house, he thinks, to keep them safe, considering all the moves she’s made.

Someday, he will reunite them. But not to frame and place on a wall.

“That feels narcissistic, like I’m celebrating myself,” Smith said.

Instead, her plan is to celebrate others in the form of themed walls around her house. On one wall, uniforms worn by players hailing from the state of North Carolina, a tribute to their Charlotte roots.

Another wall will be dedicated to veteran players he’s crossed paths with (like Jordan and Green in Denver). A third wall will feature a tribute to Wake Forest royalty (think: Muggsy Bogues, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan).

Lastly, a championship wall, which he hopes will include every member of this Nuggets roster.

“It’s been fun. I can’t even lie to you. Usually you don’t say that when you’re not playing and you’re in a leadership role,” Smith said. “It’s really been fun.”

The secret to Smith’s longevity has been a simple rule: Don’t take anything personally. That goes for basketball criticism or decisions. He was part of the deal that brought Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Nuggets last offseason from Washington in exchange for Will Barton and Monte Morris.

“Realize what you have to do to get better and find your fit,” said Smith, whose wife is expecting in three months. “On top of that, keep going, keep pushing, keep pushing.”

As for how much longer you want to play, that’s easy.

“Until they cut the lights and say don’t come back,” Smith joked.

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