Worst NBA Free-Agent Betrayals in the Last Decade

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2013

Worst NBA Free-Agent Betrayals in the Last Decade

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    All the wheeling and dealing of the 2013 NBA free-agency period got us thinking about the worst free-agent betrayals in the last decade.

    Professional athletes simply aren't as loyal as they used to be, and there's plenty of evidence from the past few years to prove it.

    To be fair, the complex nature of modern-day contracts makes relocation easier. But some NBA stars have turned down money, close hoops comrades and their home states in order to pursue glory elsewhere.

    Who are basketball's best versions of Benedict Arnold over the past 10 years?

9. Hedo Turkoglu Leaves Orlando Magic for Toronto Raptors (2009)

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    Just a couple weeks removed from an impressive 2009 NBA Finals run with the Orlando Magic, Hedo Turkoglu opted out of the remainder of his contract to test free agency.

    He parlayed his 2009 playoff success into a five-year, $53 million deal with the Toronto Raptors in a classic sell-out move. Turkoglu's wallet was thicker north of the border, but his play didn't match the peak Orlando performances of 2004-09.

    In an odd twist of transactions, the Magic ended up re-acquiring him in 2010 via trade, committing to the kind of money they were unwilling to offer before he left.

    This wasn't a colossal betrayal, but Turkoglu's opt-out was a disloyal move.

8. Jeremy Lin Leaves New York Knicks for Houston Rockets (2012)

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    We can't blame Jeremy Lin for being a businessman and working to find the optimal long-term contract to secure his future.

    But he made things difficult on the New York Knicks, even though he said he wanted to re-sign and Carmelo Anthony wanted him back. He spurned the squad that made him famous.

    The Knicks indicated they would match the Houston Rockets' initial three-year offer (even though it was a tight squeeze), but Lin helped the Rockets rework things so he could get $14.9 million in the final year.

    That restructuring was more than the Knicks were comfortable to agree with, as it would have put them neck-deep in luxury tax.

    Lin clearly didn't have a burning desire to play in New York, even though it was the place that made him a global icon.

7. Dwight Howard Leaves Los Angeles Lakers for Houston Rockets (2013)

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    In the grand scheme of NBA history, Dwight Howard's departure from the Los Angeles Lakers wasn't a monumental, disloyal stab in the back.

    Nevertheless, it's a betrayal.

    Consider the mile-wide grin on his face when he arrived a year prior. Consider how he left the club after asking for management to amnesty Kobe Bryant during negotiations, as reported by Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.

    Most of all, consider that he left $118 million on the table and damaged their championship hopes for 2013-14, not to mention making their future murkier. Signing with Houston might have been the most practical basketball decision for Howard; however, it takes a lot of indifference to walk away from Kobe and the Lakers.

    His Orlando Magic flip-flopping was much worse, but he still could have handled his Lakers tenure better.

6. Elton Brand Leaves Los Angeles Clippers for Philadelphia 76ers (2008)

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    At the conclusion of the 2008 season, Los Angeles Clippers forward Elton Brand opted out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent, saying:

    We're opting out, ... It definitely doesn't mean I'm leaving the Clippers. We're trying to work it out. My intention is to stay.

    According to J.A. Adande of ESPN.com, Brand turned down the $16 million per-year extension to sign a more modest deal and give the team flexibility for acquisitions.

    The Clips would end up getting more flexibility than they ever wanted, as Brand bolted for the Philadelphia 76ers.

    This betrayal left L.A. and newly signed Baron Davis without much to work with moving forward.

5. Jason Kidd Leaves Dallas Mavericks for New York Knicks (2012)

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    Dallas is where Jason Kidd finally got his ring. It's where he cemented his legacy.

    But it wasn't his final landing spot, much to the dismay of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and the rest of the team.

    In the summer of 2012, all signs pointed toward Kidd re-signing with the Mavs, and he was on the cusp of extending for three more years when the New York Knicks swooped in and lured him east with a three year, $9 million contract.

    In a radio interview with 103.3 FM in Dallas, Cuban expressed his disgust with the point guard's change of mind:

    I was more than upset. I thought he was coming (back). I was pissed...J-Kidd is a big boy — he can do whatever he wants. But you don’t change your mind like that.
    It hurt my feelings, period, because I felt that we had developed a relationship, and I thought that he was committed to the organization.

    It wasn't the first time Cuban was turned down in free agency, and it wouldn't be the last. But it hurt because Kidd seemed intent on staying in Dallas.

4. Karl Malone Leaves Utah Jazz for Los Angeles Lakers (2003)

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    Hall of Fame power forward Karl Malone had played 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz, and he made several deep runs in the playoffs, including two NBA Finals appearances.

    Unlike his battery mate John Stockton, Malone ditched Salt Lake City at the end of his career to chase a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003-04.

    It's a special thing when a player can spend his entire career with one team, and Malone relinquished that opportunity by donning the gold Lakers jersey.

    His quest for a ring ended in vain, as the Detroit Pistons walloped the Lakers in the 2004 finals.

3. Carlos Boozer Leaves Cleveland Cavaliers for Utah Jazz (2004)

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    After spending the first two seasons of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Carlos Boozer was under contract for a third year in 2004-05.

    The club allowed him to opt out of his rookie-scale third year, with a mutual agreement for him to become a restricted free agent so he could re-sign long term.

    Apparently, there was a misunderstanding, because Boozer did not extend with Cleveland. Rather, he accepted a six-year, $70 million offer from the Utah Jazz, and the Cavaliers didn't have salary cap space to match it.

    As a young player who had yet to sign a multi-million dollar deal, it's understandable that he'd want to secure his family's future with one stroke of the pen. But the way he did it seemed cold—especially because the Cavs tried to meet him halfway to work something out with him.

2. LeBron James Leaves Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami Heat (2010)

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    If you haven't heard about this betrayal, you must be brand-spanking new to the world of basketball.

    LeBron James' decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 and team up with Dwyane Wade was a phenomenon unlike any other in sports. 

    It sent the Cavs reeling, made the Miami Heat an instant title contender and drew criticisms of James being too soft to win a ring on his own. To make matters worse, he broadcast his choice on live television in a suspenseful event, which only made it sting more for Cleveland.

    LeBron even admits he would have approached his departure differently, because it wasn't the most sensitive way to tell his home state and original club that he was leaving.

    No matter how many banners James raises in South Beach, many will still point to his 2010 decision as a cowardly act.

1. Ray Allen Leaves Boston Celtics for Miami Heat (2012)

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    If you want to know how much of a betrayal Ray Allen's departure from Boston was, consider this: Allen and Kevin Garnett have not spoken once since he left.

    Not once, not even chit-chatting before a Celtics-Heat game.

    His southward relocation in 2012 was highly publicized, as was his somewhat tenuous relationship with Rajon Rondo. Allen was offered $6 million per year in Beantown, but he chose to ink with Miami for nearly half that figure.

    The Celtics had a unique collection of championship competitors together from 2007-08 to 2011-12, and it resulted in two finals appearances and one Larry O'Brien Trophy. Allen decided that chapter was over when he joined LeBron James and Co. in South Beach.


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