Joe Smith has traveled so many places he could give Johnny Cash a run for his money. If only Smith could remember his NBA stops as clearly as the late great country music star could rattle off everywhere he’s been. "I’ve lost count,” said Smith, the Thunder forward who’s in his 14th NBA season. Smith’s staggering list of stays reached nine cities when Oklahoma City acquired him in a three-team, six-player deal in August. He’s played in Minnesota and Philadelphia on two separate occasions and has been traded six times. "It’s been good to be able to explore different places, be on different teams and see different situations,” Smith said. "But at the same time, that’s a lot of teams in the NBA.” The tally becomes mind-boggling when you consider Smith was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1995 NBA Draft. Some labeled the former National Collegiate Player of the Year at Maryland a bust for never living up to his lofty selection. "I really haven’t taken a step back and looked at it like that,” said Smith, who was drafted ahead of Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett and Damon Stoudamire. "A lot of people look at it as me traveling around a lot, but the good thing about it for me is everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been wanted. It’s not like I’ve been just thrown in just to be part of a deal. I’ve been accepted for what I do out there on the floor and have been appreciated by the fans and by the organizations for what I bring.” What Smith brings is unwavering consistency and leadership on and off the floor. Those are two qualities Thunder general manager Sam Presti couldn’t pass up when he pulled the trigger on the deal this summer. Those are two traits Oklahoma City needs now more than ever as it enters tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers with a dismal 2-23 record. "Joe is a tremendous leader,” said Desmond Mason, who teamed with Smith in Milwaukee from 2003-05. "He’s been on good teams, and he’s been in situations that we’re in now. I think what he brought to Milwaukee, which is what made us a playoff team that one season, is the same thing that he’s bringing to this team. And in time, we’re going to be there also.” Smith has taken it upon himself to be an extension of coach Scott Brooks during these despairing days. His biggest message to his teammates, many of them elementary school students when he began his NBA career, has been to not accept the losing. "The more you win, the longer you stick around in this league,” Smith said. "It’s not about skills. I tell them don’t get caught up in this losing and don’t accept this losing because that’ll get you put out of this league quicker than anything.” Smith has modest career averages of 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. His most productive year came during his second season, when he averaged 18.7 points and 8.5 rebounds in 80 games with the Golden State Warriors. But it was Smith’s hustle and hard work that Cleveland fans remembered when they showered him with applause at Quicken Loans Arena on Nov. 26. This despite Smith playing in only 27 games for the Cavs last season. And it wasn’t Smith’s production during his time with Minnesota but rather his professionalism that led Wolves coach Kevin McHale to hunt down Smith before his team played the Thunder and give him a big bear hug. "He’s one of the nicest competitors you’ll ever meet,” Brooks said. "Everybody I’ve run into that knows him says nothing but great things about him. They love that guy, and I can see why. He has a contagious smile. He’s always in a great mood. He must drink tons of coffee because he’s always ready to go. He’s just a great guy to have.” Smith has already grown close to Kevin Durant, and the reigning rookie of the year says the time the two spend together off the court is benefiting him in both basketball and life. "Even though he was a No. 1 pick and has made a lot of money in this league and has been playing for 14 years, he’s the most humble guy I’ve seen thus far,” Durant said. "I was in the same position he was in, and guys like me can get big-headed. But he brings that humble mentality, and that rubs off me a lot.” Smith credits players such as B.J. Armstrong, Chris Mullin, Chris Gatling and Tim Hardaway for teaching him professionalism. "Even though we didn’t have the best record (with the Warriors),” Smith said, "they showed me how to approach the game with an attitude and with confidence, but at the same time with professionalism and how to go out there and do what you have to do to get the job done.” No matter the city. "It’s been a good ride for me,” Smith said. One even Cash would be envious of.
L.A. Clippers at Thunder→When: 7 tonight →Where: Ford Center. →TV: FOX Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37) →Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM.