The 15 Biggest NBA Free Agency Signings in Recent History

Here we go again — NBA free agency is upon us. With how crazy the last few free agencies have been, there’s no telling what the big name players hitting the market will do. (At least LeBron James took no time signing that big $154 million deal with the Lakers.) With all the uncertainty, it’s nice to go back and look at the monumental signings from years past. Let’s turn back the clock a couple decades and check out the 15 biggest NBA free agency signings in recent history. We kick things off in the early 1990s …

Steve Kerr to the Chicago Bulls, 1993
Steve Kerr | SLAM Magazine/ Twitter

Years before he coached the Golden State Warriors to three championships in four years, Steve Kerr became part of the Chicago Bulls team that dominated the better part of the 90s. He was a weapon off the bench for Chicago, contributing to the team’s three consecutive championships. Of course, his biggest contribution was his ability to drain three-pointers, hence the reason he holds the record for best three-point percentage (45.4%) in NBA history.

Next: Since we’re talking about the Bulls …

Dennis Rodman to the Chicago Bulls, 1995

Dennis Rodman | Vincent Laforet/AFP/Getty Images

Before PotCoin and visits to North Korea, Dennis Rodman was a controversial free agent the San Antonio Spurs were looking to get rid of. The Bulls took a chance bringing the flamboyant forward on board, with coach Phil Jackson calling the signing a “risk-reward” situation. The reward, of course, was that Rodman led the NBA in rebounds during the three years he played with the Bulls — which were also the three years the Bulls won it all.

Next: Moving on the Bulls …

Dikembe Mutombo to the Atlanta Hawks, 1996

Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo | Sports Illustrated/ @SInow/ Twitter

1996 was a big year for pivotal free agency signings, and Atlanta inking Mutombo to a five-year, $55 million deal is one of the most significant. In the five seasons he spent with the Hawks, the center averaged 3.2 blocks and 12.6 rebounds on his way to winning two of his four Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Next: Of course we can’t talk about 1996 without mentioning …

Shaquille O’Neil to LA, 1996

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O’Neal | Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve probably heard this story before. Shaq was a big star on the rise and the Orlando Magic low-balled him when it came to resigning him. So, The Big Aristotle took his talents to Los Angeles to the tune of $121 million over the course of seven years. Among the Hall of Famer’s many accomplishments, he won three championships during his eight-season tenure in Los Angeles, garnering Finals MVP all three times.

Next: Moving up-state …

Vlade Divac to the Sacramento Kings, 1998

Vlade Divac
Vlade Divac | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The lumbering 7-foot-1 center is regarded as the best free agency signing in Sacramento Kings history, largely because he turned them into a playoff contender in the early 2000s. (In addition to leading them to the Western Conference Finals in 2002.) Divac averaged 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists during his six years with the Kings.

Next: Heading into the new millennium …

Chauncey Billups, 2002

Chauncey Billups
Chauncey Billups | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The third overall pick in the 1997 draft, Billups bounced around a few teams before being signed to a six-year deal with the Pistons worth $35 million when he hit the free agent market. It was in Detroit that the guard really made his mark, leading the Pistons to an NBA championship the following season. (He garnered Finals MVP honors as well.) He bounced around more after those six years, landing back in Detroit twice — including the final season he played in the league.

Next: Before the controversy, this player was a big free agent signing …

Gilbert Arenas, 2003

Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas | Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Although the latter part of his career was marred with controversy, Arenas was a steal for the Wizards when they signed him to a six-year contract worth $60 million. While he already had two seasons in the league under his belt, the point guard went off when he played for Washington. averaging 25 points and 5.7 rebounds over his eight-year tenure there.

Next: A free agent with more championship rings than you can fit on one hand …

Robert Horry to the San Antonio Spurs, 2003

Robert Horry
Robert Horry (center) with Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan | RJ Marquez/ @KSATRJ/ Twitter

You can almost say that Horry brought the championship vibe to San Antonio, given that he already had five rings when he got into town. (Three of which came from being on the Lakers’ three-peat team.) Big Shot Rob was part of the 2005 and 2007 championship Spurs teams, contributing 430 points in five post-season appearances with San Antonio.

Next: Perhaps the most shocking signing on our list …

Carlos Boozer to the Utah Jazz, 2004

Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer | NBA Live 17/ NBAGuuy/ Twitter

There may not be a free agent signing that raises eyebrows quite like the deal that sent Boozer to Utah. To summarize: There was an option year left on Boozer’s contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He and Cavs owner Jim Paxson reportedly shook hands agreeing that the parties would forgo the option year and make Boozer a free agent so he could sign another contract with Cleveland. The Jazz swooped in and offered him a deal upwards of $70 million, and Boozer was off to Utah.

Next: Now for something a little less dramatic …

Steve Nash to Phoenix, 2004

Steve Nash
Steve Nash | Doug Benc/Getty Images

After six seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, Nash returned to Phoenix — the team that originally drafted him — after being signed to a six-year contract worth $63 million. The Hall of Famer played some of his best basketball during those seasons, particularly when he led the league in assists three straight seasons (2004-2007) and again in his last two seasons with the Suns (2009-2011).

Next: And now, we get to the ‘Heat wave’ …

LeBron James to the Miami Heat, 2010

LeBron James
LeBron James | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

James was marked as a villain when he announced on live TV that he was leaving the cozy confines of Cleveland and “taking his talents to South Beach.” Nevertheless, the move was part of a massive effort by the Heat to win a championship. They ended up making four straight NBA Finals appearances, winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.

Next: But that’s not all …

Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat, 2010

Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Before James joined the team, however, Miami inked a deal with big power forward Bosh. The towering forward teamed up with James and Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade to create what was known as the “Big Three” during the Heat’s four-year tear through the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

Next: The final piece of the puzzle …

Ray Allen to Heat, 2012

Ray Allen
Ray Allen | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sure, the Big Three was a seemingly unstoppable force. But it was Ray Allen’s contributions to the 2012 championship team that really put the Heat over the edge. Instead of staying with the Boston Celtics to end his career, Allen went to Miami for less money so that he could have a shot at just one more championship. He was part of the championship effort the following season.

Next: So long, South Beach …

LeBron James (back) to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 2014

LeBron James
LeBron James | Jason Miller/Getty Images

The crying and jersey-burning in Cleveland came to a halt when James announced he was rejoining the Cavaliers. After signing a two-year contract worth $42 million, he led the Cavs to four straight NBA Finals appearances — making that eight straight appearances for him — and one Finals victory in 2016 — for which he was named the MVP. In all four of those Finals, Cleveland played the Golden State Warriors.

Next: Which brings us to …

Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, 2016

Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant
Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant | Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Sure, Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors were an established powerhouse. But after losing to Cleveland in the 2016 Finals, they decided to go after the biggest fish in the free agency pond. So four of GSW’s top players — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala — flew out to the Hamptons to woo Kevin Durant into joining them in the Sunshine State. Not only did KD join the team but he was a pivotal player in the Warriors’ back-to-back championships, winning Finals MVP both times.