The Biggest NBA Free-Agent Signings Since 2000
NBA free agency is a time to dream. Most players signed will never win a championship or become an MVP-caliber star, but every contract offers the hope of a brighter future.
With a little luck, that optimism can become a reality. Since 2000, seven significant free-agent additions—with sign-and-trade transactions included—have gone on to win an NBA championship or win the NBA's MVP award. Steve Nash, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are among them.
Unsurprisingly, the alternate title of this feature could be "LeBron James Has Moved Three Times." Since he's won a championship at every stop, though, each one deserves to be highlighted.
While the list is subjective, the key factors are high-level individual success and team accomplishments.
Robert Horry, San Antonio Spurs (2003)
After winning the NBA title in 2003, the Spurs picked up a valuable piece of their next two championships. Robert Horry—who signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal—arrived from the rival Los Angeles Lakers, but he soon endeared himself to Spurs fans. Horry buried an iconic three-pointer in Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals, and the winning shot played a key role in San Antonio's title. Horry re-signed with the Spurs and won another ring, his seventh, in 2007.
Ray Allen, Miami Heat (2012)
Moving from Horry to Ray Allen, perhaps the irony is cruel. While a free-agent signing saved San Antonio in 2005, a summer signing crushed the Spurs in 2013. Allen left the Boston Celtics and joined the Heat on a two-year, $6 million contract in the summer of 2012. In that first season, he drilled a clutch game-tying triple late in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Miami won in overtime and then took Game 7.
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors (2013)
As the Heat celebrated that championship, the Warriors added to the foundation of their soon-to-emerge dynasty. After one season with the Denver Nuggets, Andre Iguodala agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with Golden State as part of a three-team sign-and-trade. Iguodala's production in the "Death Lineup" led to a Finals MVP honor in 2015, and he won three championships with the Warriors.
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (2004)
Not re-signing Steve Nash, then a two-time All-Star, in the summer of 2004 is something Dallas Mavericks governor Mark Cuban has labeled his biggest mistake. "We thought his body would break down, and it certainly didn't," Cuban later said.
Instead, the crafty guard propelled the Phoenix Suns into the exciting "Seven Seconds or Less" era.
Nash won league MVP honors in 2004-05 and 2005-06, leading the NBA in assists per game in both seasons. Phoenix advanced to the Western Conference Finals in both years too.
During his eight seasons with the Suns after his return to Phoenix, where he spent his first two seasons as well, Nash averaged 16.3 points and 10.9 assists with a 43.7 percent three-point clip. A six-time All-Star for Phoenix, he remains the franchise's all-time leader in assists, three-pointers and offensive win shares.
Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons (2002)
One decade after the memorable "Bad Boys" era in Detroit, Chauncey Billups reignited the franchise.
Nobody really expected it. Through five seasons, he'd bounced from the Celtics to the Toronto Raptors to the Nuggets to the Orlando Magic to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Billups had played well enough, but he wasn't a top-dollar target. He signed a five-year, $35 million contract that turned into a bargain for Detroit.
In 2002-03, the Pistons made the Eastern Conference Finals. The next season, Billups won Finals MVP when Detroit toppled the Lakers. And in 2004-05, the Pistons won the East again.
Following the peak of team success in Detroit, Billups earned three of his five straight All-Star nods with the Pistons. He ranks No. 1 in franchise history in win shares per 48 minutes.
LeBron James, Miami Heat (2010)
The summer of 2010 is a pivot point in NBA history.
LeBron James wasn't the first marquee player to leave his team in free agency. However, he orchestrated a sequence of moves that landed both himself and Chris Bosh in Miami, which already had 2006 Finals hero Dwyane Wade on the roster.
As the Cleveland Cavaliers slunk into mediocrity without LeBron, the Heat jumped from a perennial playoff contender to the annual NBA championship favorite.
LeBron spent four seasons in Miami, earning first-team All-NBA honors and an All-Defensive nod each year. The Heat won NBA titles in 2011-12 and 2012-13—with LeBron as the Finals MVP both seasons—and the Eastern Conference in 2010-11 and 2013-14.
In the summer of 2014, LeBron returned to Cleveland. But his decision—yes, The Decision—in 2010 opened the floodgates for star movement in the NBA throughout the following decade.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (2010)
Too often, though understandably so, Chris Bosh is lumped into a paragraph as the afterthought to LeBron James. Both players bolted for the Heat in the summer of 2010, and LeBron receives the greatest praise for Miami's pair of championships.
But it's important not to understate Bosh's impact.
While the Heat leaned on James and Dwyane Wade, Bosh evolved from a low-post centerpiece in Toronto into a floor-spacing complementary forward. His willingness to adapt played a crucial role in Miami's two NBA titles, along with four straight Eastern Conference crowns.
During a six-year tenure in Miami, he averaged 18.0 points and 7.3 rebounds. Bosh made the All-Star team in each of those seasons, but recurring blood clots ended his NBA career in 2016.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2014)
LeBron left Cleveland in pursuit of his first championship. After four seasons and two rings in Miami, though, the King returned to his native Ohio with a simple goal: Bring one to Cleveland.
Ironically, his departure in 2010 is a major reason the Cavaliers' 2016 title happened. After he left, the Cavs stunk. And in the 2011 NBA draft lottery, the pingpong balls bounced their way. Cleveland used the No. 1 overall pick on Kyrie Irving, who buried the championship-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.
James spent four seasons with the Cavaliers in his second stint and landed first-team All-NBA recognition each year. Cleveland won the Eastern Conference in all four seasons, extending LeBron's personal streak to eight.
When he left Cleveland for Miami in 2010, LeBron became a villain. But after bringing a title to The Land, he exited for the Lakers in 2018 as the superstar who ended the city's championship drought.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (2016)
Golden State didn't wallow in the disappointment of Cleveland's stunning 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals. No, the Warriors moved on and targeted Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, the best free agent available.
Much to the rest of the NBA's distress, the pitch worked.
Sure, he took criticism for leaving OKC, one of Golden State's top threats at the time. Similar to LeBron, however, Durant's focus was squarely on winning a championship. And the Warriors—with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala—gave Durant a clear path to a title.
Durant fit seamlessly into Golden State's powerful offense and helped the Warriors win back-to-back rings. Best of all for KD, he secured Finals MVP in both championship runs.
The relationship soured and led to his departure for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019, but Durant accomplished his goal with Golden State.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (2018)
Rumors had long connected LeBron James to the Lakers, and he finally made the move in the summer of 2018.
Unlike in Miami and during his return to Cleveland, James' debut season didn't end in an NBA Finals appearance. In fact, Los Angeles missed the playoffs altogether. Injuries limited him to 55 games, and the Lakers finished 37-45.
But he wouldn't be stopped for long.
Los Angeles overhauled the roster in 2019, sending draft picks and its young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Anthony Davis. This transaction led to immediate results.
LeBron embraced his role as a point forward, leading the NBA with 10.2 assists per game. And in the 2020 playoffs—played in the "bubble" at Disney World because of the coronavirus pandemic—the Lakers defeated the Heat in the NBA Finals. The triumph gave him the fourth championship and Finals MVP honor of his career.