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20 Biggest Free Agent Signings In NBA History

20 Biggest Free Agent Signings In NBA History

When the calendar year turns to July, it marks the beginning of NBA free agency. It’s a special time of year when some of the game’s biggest superstars can choose their new home or remain with the team they previously played. When looking at some of the deals across the NBA, you can notice that there have been some historic deals that have changed the landscape of the league.

The biggest signings aren’t always the ones that see a player land with a team for the most money. Those deals are not always worth the price for the player. For others, it can be a smaller deal that helped a team win a championship because that player was a missing link. When looking back in the history of the NBA, these 20 players and their deals were big deals that had a lasting ripple effect on the entire team.

These 20 players are the biggest free-agent signings in NBA history.

Honorable Mention

Dikembe Mutombo - Atlanta Hawks (1996)

Dikembe Mutombo

Contract: $56.0 million, 5 years

The deal led to many championships for the Hawks, but it did give the team one of the best defensive players in the history of the league. Mutombo was an All-Star in 1997, 1998, and 2000, while making the All-NBA Third Team in 1998. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year with the Hawks and enjoyed so much success that his No. 55 is retired by the team.

20. Carmelo Anthony - New York Knicks (2014)

Carmelo Anthony

Contract: $124 million, 5 years

The contract given to Anthony didn’t have a major significance on the direction of the Knicks. The Knicks weren’t contenders. The contract was a bigger deal because of Anthony’s choice to stay with the Knicks. There are confirmed rumors that Anthony was in play to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant. He nearly signed with the Chicago Bulls to form a triple threat with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Anthony choosing to stay in New York was all about the money.

19. Ray Allen - Miami Heat (2012)

Ray Allen Isn't A Fan Of The 3-Point Revolution: "The Mid-Range Game Is Being Lost."

Contract: $6.3 million, 2 years

After coming up short against the Heat in 2012 as a member of the Celtics, Allen angered a few of his former teammates in Boston by jumping ship to join the Heat. Allen signed a two-year deal and became a dependable outside scoring threat for the Heat. His most iconic moment came when he scored the game-tying three-point shot in Game 6 against the Spurs in the NBA Finals. That led to forcing a Game 7, which the Heat won, resulting in repeating as champions and giving Allen his second NBA championship ring.

18. LaMarcus Aldridge - San Antonio Spurs (2015)

LaMarcus Aldridge

Contract: $84.1 million, 4 years

After a successful career with the Portland Trail Blazers, Aldridge left the team to join the Spurs in 2015. It felt like a passing of the torch from Tim Duncan to Aldridge as the older era of the Spurs was done. Aldridge teamed up with Kawhi Leonard and helped the Spurs make the Western Conference Finals in 2017, but without Leonard in the series, the Spurs were bested by the Warriors. Aldridge enjoyed three All-Star appearances and two All-NBA selections with San Antonio.

17. Rick Barry - Golden State Warriors (1972)


Contract: $1 million, 5 years

Barry became the first marquee NBA player to jump to the ABA after he had differences with the Warriors team owner over unpaid incentive monies. He was forced to sit out his first season since transferring to the ABA. When he came back, he helped the Oakland Oaks win the ABA championship in 1969. Once his contract ran out with the New York Nets, a judge said that he must play for the Warriors, who he originally signed in 1969. Once he returned to the Warriors, he helped San Francisco win the 1975 NBA Championship, where he won Finals MVP.

16. Michael Jordan - Washington Wizards (2001)

Michael Jordan

Contract: $2.0 million, 2 years

When Jordan signed with the Wizards, it was a big deal because it was the second time that Jordan came out of retirement. It was also four years since Jordan had last played professional basketball. In his first season back, Jordan averaged 22.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. In his final season, he played all 82 games and averaged 20.0 points and 6.1 rebounds. The Wizards were not the best team on the floor, but it was a packed house each night because the team had Jordan on the floor.

15. Chauncey Billups - Detroit Pistons (2002)

Chauncey Billups

Contract: $27.2 million, 5 years

Billups saw the best parts of his career with the Pistons. After bouncing around the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, and Timberwolves, Billups signed a five-year contract with the Pistons. Billups embarked on a journey as the floor general of the Pistons that made the NBA Finals in 2004 and 2005, as well as winning the championship in 2004 where he was named Finals MVP. Billups was consistently a 16-point, six-assist player during his tenure and was a steal when you look at the contract specifics.

14. Kevin Durant - Brooklyn Nets (2019)

Kevin Durant

Contract: $164 million, 4 years

When Durant signed this contract, it meant that Durant was leaving a team that made the NBA Finals three straight seasons with him on the team. Durant was a two-time Finals MVP with the Warriors and he was joining a team that was a borderline first-round team. However, when Durant signed with the Nets, he joined Kyrie Irving and formed a great dynamic duo on paper. The Nets have made the second round once in their three years, but the team has battled injuries and off-the-court drama. If everyone is focused next season, the Nets could be a contender to make the NBA Finals.

13. Kawhi Leonard - Los Angeles Clippers (2019)

Kawhi Leonard

Contract: $103.1 million, 3 years

Leonard was coming off one season with the Raptors, where he led the team to their first championship in franchise history and a Finals MVP Award. Leonard had options in the 2019 offseason and spurned the Los Angeles Lakers to join the Clippers who had brought in Paul George. In 2021, the Clippers made the Conference Finals, but Leonard did not play a game due to injury and had to miss all of last season. With Leonard healthy, the Clippers are a threat to come out of the West and make their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

12. Chris Bosh - Miami Heat (2010)

Contract: $109.8 million, 6 years

Bosh was the all-time leading scorer for the Raptors as he headed into the 2010 offseason. The Raptors knew that he was going to likely leave. Bosh ended up leaving the team via a sign-and-trade with the Heat. With Bosh in the fold, the Heat made four straight appearances in the NBA Finals from 2011 to 2014. Bosh’s greatest claim to fame was in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA FInals where he secured an offensive rebound and found an open Ray Allen to hit the game-tying shot. With Bosh on the team, he was the third member of the big three that helped the team win the title in 2012 and 2013.

11. Steve Nash - Phoenix Suns (2004)

Steve Nash

Contract: $65.6 million, 5 years

When Nash signed with the Suns in 2004, it was a homecoming for him. He started his career with the Suns and after two years joined the Mavericks. In his return, he won the 2005 MVP in his first season and then repeated as league MVP in 2006. He was a 50-40-90 Club member and led the league in assists from 2005 to 2007 and 2010 to 2011. With Nash running the show, the Suns had the best offense in the league.

10. Moses Malone - Philadelphia 76ers (1982)

Moses Malone

Contract: $13.2 million, 6 years

Malone was coming off a season where he won league MVP in 1982. He elected to sign with the 76ers and join a team that had the 1981 league MVP in Julius Erving. With these two players leading the way, the 76ers went on to win the 1983 championship with a four-game sweep over the Lakers. Malone was named Finals MVP for that season. It was a risk that Malone was willing to take and it paid off big as he was able to win his lone championship.

9. Julius Erving - Philadelphia 76ers (1976)

Julius Erving

Contract: $3 million

When the teams from the ABA merged with the NBA, Erving was nearly given to the Knicks. The Nets offered his contract to the Knicks, but the team turned it down. The 76ers then offered $3 million to buy Erving’s contract in addition to paying the Nets the same amount for their expansion fees. The Nets fell to a bottomfeeder team, while the 76ers rose to the top. The 76ers made the NBA Finals in 1978 before falling to the Trail Blazers. After an MVP season in 1981, the team was able to lure Moses Malone the following year and win the 1983 championship. The Knicks should have made an offer, but it remains one of the biggest mistakes in the team’s history.

8. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers (2014)

LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers

Contract: $42.2 million, 2 years

The Heat was coming off their fourth trip to the NBA Finals and was defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in five games. James had remained hungry and led the Cavaliers to a title, so he decided to return to Cleveland. It was a huge deal because he had angered the city when he left the first time, but once he won two titles with Miami, he had a new motivation. The Cavaliers formed a big three with James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love and made history by becoming the first team to ever come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the 2016 championship.

7. LeBron James - Los Angeles Lakers (2018)

NBA Fans React To LeBron James Going To The Lakers Practice Facility At 5 AM: “Bruh This Man Is Deada** Serious. He Not Tryna Miss Another Playoffs Again."

Contract: $153.3 million, 4 years

James made the NBA Finals each season in his return to the Cavaliers from 2015 to 2018. With a title in hand for Cleveland, James was able to move on to the next chapter of his life. He decided to join a long list of legacy players in the Los Angeles Lakers. After missing the playoffs in his first season, the Lakers made a deal to bring Anthony Davis to town. James led the league in assists that season vaulted the team to a top-defensive squad, and then won his fourth Finals MVP Award as he led the Lakers to the 2020 championship.

6. Shaquille O’Neal - Los Angeles Lakers (1996)

Shaquille O’Neal 1996-97

Contract: $120 million, 7 years

After four successful seasons with the Orlando Magic, O’Neal decided that he wanted to play in a larger market. He had his sights on Hollywood and signed one of the largest contracts in the NBA with the Lakers. Once the team added Kobe Bryant, the pair of O’Neal and Bryant led the Lakers to a three-peat from 2000 to 2002. O’Neal was the best player on those teams, winning three straight Finals MVP Awards, as well as the 2000 regular season MVP.

5. Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers (2004)

Kobe Bryant 2003

Contract: $136.4 million, 7 years

The Lakers were coming off the 2004 NBA Finals where the team was coming off a loss to the Pistons. The feud between Bryant and O’Neal was at its highest. It came down to who were the Lakers going to choose. They ultimately decided to marry Bryant as they traded O’Neal to the Heat and Bryant signed a seven-year contract. After a few ups and downs, Bryant won the league MVP in 2008 and then led the Lakers to two more titles in 2009 and 2010, winning Finals MVP in both of those championship seasons.

4. Kevin Durant - Golden State Warriors (2016)

Kevin Durant

Contract: $51.2 million, 2 years

The Oklahoma City Thunder could taste the NBA Finals in 2016. They had the 73-win Warriors on the ropes, leading the series 3-1. However, the team faltered and lost three straight. It marked the end for Durant, who joined the superteam in the 2016 offseason. Durant led the Warriors to back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, where he was the winner of the Finals MVP both times. The Warriors made the NBA Finals in 2019, but Durant suffered a devastating injury that forced him to miss one full regular season later. All in all, this deal remains a part of Durant’s legacy for his willingness to join a superteam.

3. LeBron James - Miami Heat (2010)

LeBron James Miami Heat

Contract: $109.8 million, 6 years

Among legacy decisions, one of the biggest has to be the 2010 offseason when James made his announcement on “The Decision” to join the Miami Heat. He was coming off back-to-back MVP seasons with the Cavaliers, where the team owned the best record in the East. However, the Cavaliers failed to make the NBA Finals and James grew tired of coming up short. James joined the Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and won two titles and made four appearances in the Finals with the Heat. The deal was a landmark decision in NBA history as it led to superstars joining other superstars on other NBA teams.

2. Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls (1996)

Michael Jordan 1997

Contract: $30.1 million, 1 year

Jordan was fresh off winning the 1996 Finals MVP and regular-season MVP, but he did not want to commit to the Bulls long-term, so he took massive one-year deals. At the time, this was the largest one-year contract for a player. Jordan delivered as the Bulls returned to the NBA Finals and won the 1997 championship. Jordan was named Finals MVP. In the regular season, he came up short to Karl Malone for the regular season MVP despite averaging 29.6 points per game.

1. Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls (1997)

Michael Jordan 1998

Contract: $33.1 million, 1 year

The biggest free-agent signing in the history of the NBA has to be the one-year, $33 million contract Jordan signed in 1997. As highlighted by The Last Dance, this was truly the last run of the core of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and head coach Phil Jackson. Jordan signed the largest one-year deal in NBA history, which remains a record for a one-year contract. Jordan averaged 28.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.7 steal to win the regular-season MVP Award. Then, the Bulls completed their second three-peat in the 90s, where Jordan won his third consecutive Finals MVP Award for a second time in his tenure with the Bulls. 


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