LeBron James to the Miami Heat and the 10 Biggest Free Agency Coups in the NBA

Tom LoughreyAnalyst IIIMay 5, 2011

LeBron James to the Miami Heat and the 10 Biggest Free Agency Coups in the NBA

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    When LeBron James announced to the world that he would be taking his talents to South Beach, was it the biggest free agent move in the history of the NBA?

    James was arguably the most highly-touted prospect the league has ever seen. A player of his status traditionally stays with one team for the prime of his career. The last two similar stars—Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant—dedicated their best basketball all to one franchise.

    However, some players have chosen a different route. Possibly feeling like their team doesn't have the pieces to win, or seeing a team that pursues you with such desperate measure can cause a player to relocate.

    Will Dwight Howard or Chris Paul be the next to add to this list in 2012? No one can say for sure.

    Here are the 10 biggest free-agent acquisitions in NBA history.

10. Vlade Divac to the Sacramento Kings in 1999

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    Vlade Divac was once traded for Kobe Bryant.

    Maybe Divac didn't have quite the career that Kobe did, but Divac was a more than reliable center for the Sacramento Kings for six years.

    He left the Charlotte Hornets after the lockout, playing in Europe for a very short stint. When he returned to the NBA, he signed with the Kings.

    During this time, Divac and the Kings rivaled Kobe and the Lakers. The two teams shared a multitude of memorable playoff series, but the Kings were never able to get by the Lakers.

    Divac still helped the Kings to their first playoff series win in 20 years in 2001. The next season, it took the Lakers all seven games to edge out the Kings, who Shaquille O'Neal famously called the "Queens."

    Divac is known as one of the best passing centers in NBA history, and without him, the Kings wouldn't have had the same swagger.

9. Gilbert Arenas to the Washington Wizards in 2003

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    After a breakout season in his second year of the NBA for the Golden State Warriors, Gilbert Arenas was a high-end free agent.

    It's rumored that Arenas flipped a coin 10 times to decide between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Washington Wizards. Even though the Clippers won the battle of odds, Arenas decided to go against the fate of the coins.

    Arenas was plagued by injury in his first year as a Wizard, but his career took off after that. He averaged over 25 points a game in the next three seasons, and—like Divac—brought his team into legitimate playoff conversation each year.

    Also, Arenas had a larger value to his team than Divac.

    Even though weapon charges and John Wall brought in an abrupt end to "Agent Zero's" career in Washington, his value was no fluke. He signed another deal in 2008 spanning six years and for over $111 million.

    Arenas has since been traded to the Orlando Magic, and has yet to return to top form. Still, there's no denying the effect Gilbert had in Washington.

8. Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat in 2010

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    LeBron James wasn't the only one to fly down to Miami after the 2009-10 season.

    As Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and James received almost all of the attention from the draft class of 2003, Chris Bosh was up in Toronto having a spectacular career.

    The power forward out of Georgia Tech was actually taken before Wade in the draft, and had been steadily increasing his stats and abilities.

    Bosh and James decided to be the two that departed from their team to create the "Big Three."

    Bosh didn't receive nearly as much hate as LeBron did, but his exit was less publicized. He didn't have ESPN air a show for him to announce his decision.

    Despite tons of criticism this season, Bosh has been steadily learning his role on the Heat. When his jump shot went cold, people said he—and the team as a whole—was overrated.

    Bosh has found his stroke recently, and the Heat are up 2-0 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

    If the Heat win the Larry O'Brien trophy in their first season together, Bosh will rise up these rankings. He could be as high as fifth.

7. Amar'e Stoudemire to the New York Knicks in 2010

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    Trouble with his knees during his time with the Phoenix Suns had some people doubting whether Amar'e Stoudemire was worth what the New York Knicks paid for him.

    After eight years in Phoenix, Stoudemire opted out of his contract to head to the most marketable team in basketball: the Knicks. He signed on for five years at just under $100 million.

    Was Amar'e capable of being the centerpiece of a franchise?

    After one year, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. Even though the Knicks went out and added Carmelo Anthony to the equation, Stoudemire was proving to be the player the Knicks thought he would be. He landed a starting spot in the All-Star game in just his first year with a new team.

    Amar'e has added a sweet jump shot to his athletic, yet overpowering low-post game.

    The next few years for the Knicks will truly show the value of this acquisition.

6. Ron Artest to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009

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    Rarely does such a high-profile player join a team that just won the NBA Championship.

    Ron Artest was signed by the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2009 to a five-year deal worth roughly $33 million. Artest had a "bad boy" label attached to his name, but the Lakers overlooked that because of their need for a defensive-minded small forward.

    Trevor Ariza left the Lakers after playing a pivotal role in the Lakers title in 2009, their first since the Kobe-Shaq era. Artest was immediately put to work, as he was used to guard the opposing team's star in many instances.

    Ron Artest was one of the most effective players in the Lakers' Game 7 triumph over the Boston Celtics. Without Artest, Pierce may have had a field day against the Lakers. He tacked on 20 points in a low-scoring affair to push the Lakers to back-to-back championships.

    In 2010-11, Artest has been hot and cold, but he won something no one could have predicted him to capture. Artest was named the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner.

    In terms of doing exactly what he was signed to do, Ron Artest may rank in the top three of this list. However, one productive season isn't enough to earn him top-five honors.

5. Dikembe Mutombo to the Atlanta Hawks in 1996

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    When the Atlanta Hawks signed Dikembe Mutombo in 1996, they knew they had landed an absolute force on the defensive end.

    Five years and $50 million was well worth the price for Mutombo, who made the All-Star game in four of five seasons with the Hawks. In addition to that, Mutombo was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year—twice.

    He averaged over four blocks a game in two different seasons for the Denver Nuggets, previous to his time with the Hawks. That's unheard of in the league today.

    He upped his rebounding production as a member of the Hawks, while still swatting away around three shots a game. Mutombo would follow many of his blocks with a point and finger-wag that gained lots of publicity.

    Two trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals with Mutombo at center lands the big guy from Congo a spot in the top five of my list.

    Signing one of the best shot-blockers in the NBA is nothing to shake your finger at, but he wasn't even the best signing in 1996. Another player from that offseason will be featured later.

4. Chauncey Billups to the Detroit Pistons in 2002

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    After a series of teams took small chances on Chauncey Billups, the Detroit Pistons were the first to take a real risk on him.

    The Pistons signed Billups for six years and $35 million to become their starting point guard. That may be the smallest contract for a player who went on to be the NBA Finals MVP just two years later.

    Yes, Billups did join an already established team, but it was his clutch ability that made him so valuable.

    The nickname "Mr. Big Shot" stuck with Billups after his epic performance in the 2004 NBA Finals, helping the Pistons to a five-game upset of the overhauled Lakers.

    The Lakers had a starting lineup with arguably four of the top 50 players of all time. A matchup against Gary Payton, the greatest defensive point guard in NBA history, didn't intimidate Billups, who averaged 21 points a game. Payton is a notable free agent pickup that didn't quite make this list.

    Billups led the Pistons back to the Finals the next season, but they fell to the San Antonio Spurs. He was the leader of a spread-out attack and one of the most balanced starting lineups in history.

    Billups has been moved twice since being with the Pistons, but still gets overlooked by the casual NBA fan.

    Chauncey is one of the most underrated players in the game today.

3. Steve Nash to the Phoenix Suns in 2004

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    Having this move at No. 3 on the list is a tribute to how strong the top two are.

    Steve Nash's departure from Dallas and Dirk Nowitzki to join the Phoenix Suns in 2004 had an inexplicable effect on the entire league.

    How often does a team add a 30-year old point guard with injury problems and see this much success?

    The answer: never.

    Steve Nash returned to the team that drafted him and won back-to-back MVP's in his second and third seasons with the Suns. The Suns never made it to the NBA Finals with Nash running the show, but they may be considered the best unit not to reach the Finals.

    Nash and the Suns brought in an era of up-tempo, high-scoring basketball. As soon as they grabbed an offensive rebound, an outlet pass was tossed to Nash, who was already looking to run the floor.

    This fast-paced offense was tried out by many other teams, but no one seemed to have the success of the Suns.

    Nash may be on his way out of Phoenix very soon, but the word regret will never be associated with the Suns and Nash...unless the topic is trading Nash after two seasons and not having him around during his 20s.

2. LeBron James to the Miami Heat in 2010

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    Five years from now, LeBron James will be atop a list just like this. For now, he sits at No. 2.

    LeBron's life as a free agent was one of the most talked about things in the history of the NBA.

    Three years before his contract had expired, people were talking about how sought after James would be in 2010. NBA teams did not disappoint, with over half a dozen teams taking serious shots at LeBron.

    In the end, James decided to form arguably the most terrifying, young three-man combo the game has ever seen.

    After a lackluster start, the Heat found their groove and started to mow teams down. A 6-1 start in the postseason, including a 2-0 lead over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals has Heat fans talking title.

    If the Heat nab a title in the first year of their new-look squad, the rest of the NBA should watch out. The media tried to beat them down when they were struggling, but couldn't.

    Is there anything scarier than the Heat with a boat-load of confidence?

1. Shaquille O'Neal to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996

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    No player brought a level of play to their new team quite like Shaquille O'Neal did.

    When Shaq was taken No. 1 by the Orlando Magic in 1992, he instantly became a star in the pros. In one game during his sophomore campaign, Shaq recorded his first career triple-double with 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks. Simply put, he was the real deal.

    After four years with the Magic, Shaq had already been to the NBA Finals and had finished second in the MVP voting. However, he had experienced three consecutive sweeps to end his playoff hopes. Shaq decided a change of venue was necessary.

    During his time training with the Olympic basketball team, O'Neal announced he would join the Lakers. He signed with Los Angeles for seven years and $121 million.

    Once Phil Jackson joined the Lakers and Kobe Bryant began to mature as a player, the Lakers hit their stride.

    Three straight titles and three consecutive NBA Finals MVP's for "The Big Aristotle" from 2000-02 make him the biggest free agent acquisition of all time.

    If it weren't for the demise of the relationship between Shaq and Kobe, more titles could have followed.

    If Dwight Howard bolts from Orlando to team up with Kobe, the comparisons will be endless.