NBA Free Agency has become the talk of basketball fans across the country. At no time in the NBA’s history have so many big name players come available in the free agent market than 2010. With LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all signing with the Miami Heat, the landscape of the NBA has changed drastically.
Here are five more historically important free agent signings in the NBA’s history.
5. Vlade Divac, Sacramento Kings (1999)
The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Vlade Divac into the NBA in 1989. Divac had already played professionally in Yugoslavia since 1986. Divac was the first ever non-American draft pick. In 1989/90, Divac was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team. In 1996, Divac made his greatest contribution to the Lakers when the team traded him to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant. In 1999, Divac returned to California as a free agent signing of the Sacramento Kings. Divac was the biggest acquisition for the new owners of the Kings and helped turn the struggling franchise around. The Kings only reached the playoffs twice in the previous thirteen seasons. After the arrival of Divac, Sacramento reached the postseason eight years in a row, including a trip to the conference finals in 2001-02.
4. Dikembe Mutombo, Atlanta Hawks (1995)
The Denver Nuggets drafted Dikembe Mutombo with the fourth overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft. He was elected to the All-Star team as a rookie and instantly became one of the NBA’s top defensive players. With Mutombo in their lineup, the Nuggets made the playoffs in his third season with the team. In 1995, he signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Hawks. After signing with the Hawks, he won two Defensive Player of the Year awards and helped lead his new team to the Semifinals three of the next four years. It was his time in Atlanta that most fans remember him as the finger waving, shot blocker who turned into a star.
3. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (2004)
The Phoenix Suns drafted Steve Nash but underutilized him, playing Nash behind bigger stars like Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. When Dallas Maverick head coach Don Nelson showed interest in the role player, the Suns traded Nash to the Mavericks and he became a star. He turned into one of the greatest point guards in the NBA while in Dallas and helped lead the resurgent Mavs to respectability. When his contract negotiations came due, Nash wanted to remain in Dallas but owner Mark Cuban wanted to devote his money to the younger Dirk Nowitzki and balked at paying Nash what he was asking for. Nash’s original team, the Phoenix Suns, did not hold back and offered him a six-year, $63 million contract and Nash returned to Phoenix. Nash became the leader of the young Suns team and, with a new up-tempo style, led the Suns to the Conference Finals after failing to make the playoffs the year before Nash’s return to the team. Since his return, Nash has won two MVP awards and the Suns have made three trips to the Conference Finals.
2. Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons (2002)
When Chauncey Billups signed a large free agent contract with the Detroit Pistons in 2002, fans scratched their heads. Billups was nothing more than a journeyman to that point. The Boston Celtics drafted Billups in 1997 and traded him halfway through his first season to the Toronto Raptors. He next played for the Denver Nuggets, who traded him to the Orlando Magic. He next signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves as a backup to Terrell Brandon. Whatever the Pistons saw in Billups paid off. He helped lead the team to an NBA Championship victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 and won the NBA Finals MVP Award. One year later, the Pistons made it to the finals again, this time losing to San Antonio. The next year, he co-captained a Pistons team that won a franchise best 64 games. During his time with the Pistons, Billups made six straight conference championship series, two NBA finals, won an NBA Championship, was named an All-Star three times, made the all-NBA team twice and All-Defensive second team twice. Not bad for a “journeyman.”
1. Shaquille O’Neal – Los Angeles Lakers (1996)
The Orlando Magic drafted Shaquille O’Neal with the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. In his rookie year, he became the first rookie since Michael Jordan to be an All-Star game starter. In his second season, he led the Magic to their first appearance in the NBA playoffs. In his third year, he led the NBA in scoring and the Magic made it to the NBA Finals where they lost to Houston. Following an injury-plagued 1995-96 season, O’Neal signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and helped them achieve their best record since 1990-91. In 1999, the Lakers added head coach Phil Jackson. O’Neal and Kobe Bryant helped lead the Lakers to three straight NBA Championships from 1999-2002.
Shaquille O’Neal – NBA.com
Chauncey Billups – NBA.com
Steve Nash – NBA.com
Dikembe Mutombo – NBA.com
Vlade Divac – NBA.com