Wayne Ellington has learned to take little for granted in the NBA since he was a first-round pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2009 NBA Draft.
It began an odyssey throughout the league that has landed him in his latest stop, with the Knicks. in the first hours of free agency the Knicks secured a two-year deal with Ellington - the first season fully guaranteed, making them his ninth team - not including a six-week, off-season stop on the Knicks roster in 2014 when he joined the franchise in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks and then was shipped out to Sacramento, or a one-day stay with Phoenix last season as part of a trade and waive move to land him in Detroit.
“I never put the jersey on,” Ellington said laughing at his first go-round with the Knicks. “The Phoenix thing wasn’t anything close to how that was. I knew that was coming. That was planned. This was the first time around. That was different for me. I didn’t know what to expect when I did get traded to the Knicks. I didn’t know what the situation was, what it was going to be.”
Since that brief stopover on the Knicks roster, Ellington, who will return to his hometown of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday to host his annual “Make It Wayne” tournament and charity event on the courts he refurbished, has established himself as more than a role player or a throw-in. He's a three-point sharpshooter who fills a gaping hole for the Knicks, who were among the NBA’s worst teams beyond the arc last season.
He played two and a half seasons with the Miami Heat from 2016 to 2019 before being traded at the deadline last February to Detroit. He started 26 of his 28 games for the Pistons. He averaged 7.8 three-point attempts per game during his stay in Detroit, helping the Pistons to a playoff berth.
“In New York, I saw a young core that has a lot of talent, obviously with the guys that were there last season and they drafted RJ [Barrett]. I found that situation to be pretty intriguing for me and then definitely of course there was a need for three-point shooting," Ellington said. “I think it took me a little bit of a while really to find my niche. When I got to Miami I was able to show what I’m capable of and I was there for two and a half years, so I spent a good amount of time there. And then last year I spent a half-season in Detroit. Since I got to Miami there hasn’t been as much movement for me. I feel like my skillset has started to become valued since I was in a Heat uniform and thing have been different for me.”
Ellington was one of seven free agents signed by the Knicks this summer in the wake of last year’s 17-65 struggles. While he took a starting role in Detroit and his shooting ability is a need, there are no guarantees in New York of a starting job - and it actually would be an upset if he earned one.
Ellington said he isn’t concerned with starting or coming off the bench. He is intent on providing veteran leadership to a team desperately in need of it.
“I’m here first and foremost to help lead a very young team,” Ellington said. “That’s one of the things [Knicks coach David Fizdale] and I spoke about, helping to lead. And of course, I’m here be a player, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, whatever Fiz needed me to do, I’m going to be ready and prepared for it. That’s really not my main focus, whether I’m a starter or not, but I’m definitely coming in here to compete.”
Ellington earned the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2015 while with the Brooklyn Nets for his efforts to battle gun violence after his father, Wayne Ellington Sr., was shot in his car in the streets of Philadelphia. He said he will continue those efforts when speaking to children this weekend, distressed by the continuing string of shootings in the news, including the shootout with police in Philadelphia last week.
“Absolutely, I’m always talking about it,” Ellington said. “It’s definitely an emphasis this weekend. It’s sad, really sad. You see much more of it. It’s more common on the news. It’s ridiculous, honestly. It’s unfortunate. I’m still hoping and praying that change can be made.”