ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- Ish Smith always has his suitcase packed.
When his phone rang on the NBA trade deadline, he wasn't surprised. Not one bit. When Smith pulls on the Milwaukee Bucks uniform for the first time, it will be his fifth one he's worn in the past two years.
With each move, the process gets easier for the 24-year-old point guard.
"It's an easy adjustment for me, an easy transition," Smith said. "Sometimes the transition is what it is. I'm excited about this move. Each move has gotten better (for me), so I'm excited."
A three-year captain at Wake Forest, Smith finished second all-time in school history in assists, averaging 13.2 points and 6.0 assists per game his senior year. It still wasn't enough to hear his name called on draft night, meaning his path to the NBA would be an uphill climb.
Smith signed to play in the 2010 NBA Summer League with Houston and impressed enough in the five games to sign a multi-year contract with the Rockets.
Bouncing back-and-forth from the D-League, Smith played in 28 games with the Rockets before getting his first taste of the NBA's trade deadline. Shipped to Memphis with Shane Battier for Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll and a future first round pick, Smith made the playoffs with the Grizzlies in 2011 and played in five games.
Memphis waived Smith after the lockout, but he was immediately claimed by Golden State. Six games and one start later, the Warriors waived Smith and it was time to move again.
This time Orlando claimed his services, and Smith began to find just a bit of stability. He appeared in 56 games over the past two seasons with the Magic, averaging 2.4 points and 1.6 assists in 36 games this year.
56 games is not even a full NBA season, but to Smith it must have felt like an eternity in one place. But last Thursday, it came time for Smith to leave Orlando. Going from a team that's 15-41 to the Bucks where he has a chance at the playoffs makes the move alright to him.
"It seems to be a theme for me," Smith said. "Every time I get traded I get traded to a playoff team. I'm excited. I really, really am excited. Make this playoff push and try and fit in the best I can."
What Bucks coach Jim Boylan asks Smith to do is a mystery. With Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick eating all of the minutes in the backcourt, Smith's playing time could be few and far between. He was inactive Saturday, and could spend more time in street clothes than his game uniform.
But Milwaukee lacks depth at guard. Smith is all it has after the three-guard rotation, without moving Marquis Daniels or Mike Dunleavy out of their more natural position of small forward. Also acquired in the trade, power forward Gustavo Ayon is caught in a numbers game at his position. The Bucks have a logjam of players at power forward, meaning Ayon will have to earn his time.
"If you look at our roster right now, those are guys that are going to have to work themselves into minutes," Bucks general manager John Hammond said of Smith and Ayon. "J.J. is probably going to be more immediate. We like both those guys and I think both those guys are keeper pieces especially with what they can do moving forward."
More of a distributor, Smith just hopes he can show the Bucks what kind of a point guard he is in practice and with the time he gets on the floor.
"I'm more of a penetrator," Smith said. "I push the pace, I play fast. I get guys involved and if need be, I can score the basketball. Those things they bring to the game (Monta and Brandon), obviously I'm going to bring something different, so it's exciting. You got three dynamic, fast point guards. Hopefully we can be exciting and win some games."
Having fought his way to the NBA and scratched and clawed to stay in the league, Smith is used to having to earn what he gets. It's that time of attitude and perseverance that's made five teams want his services in the past two years.
"(I'm willing to do) whatever coach asks me to do," Smith said. "I'm going to be me, play to the best of my ability, do what I do best and hopefully that's good enough."
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