NBA free agency is almost here and with it brings the anticipation of new players your team might bring into the fold. It provides the ultimate joy when the superstar player chooses your team. That feeling of being chosen by someone so talented and powerful is only trumped by the thought of what is to come next. Then, there is the other side of free agency. The emotions of agony and anxiousness as the pillar of your franchise faces that giant fork in the road. One turn, continues a familiar journey with the same team and fan base he has guided for so long and the other is leaving it behind for a new challenge and what he might deem to be greener pastures. Just like the exhilaration of being chosen by the star is powerful, the feeling of getting left behind is just as strong. While this mass player movement is a relatively new phenomenon in the NBA, in this article we are going to dive into the five most devastating free agency decisions ever.
5. Carlos Boozer, 2004
Boozer makes this list for two reasons. First, this was one of the greatest double crosses in NBA history. Cleveland had decided to make Boozer a restricted free agent in order to sign him to a long-term deal the two sides had agreed upon. Reports are that Boozer and then Cavs GM John Paxson even shook on a deal, but then Utah comes with an offer the Cavs can’t match due to salary cap rules at the time. Boozer runs out of Cleveland and has a great run with Utah. Secondly, if Boozer had decided to stay, the entire NBA landscape might have turned out differently. People forget how good Boozer actually was. This is a guy who averaged 19 and 10 in his six seasons in Utah. Add Boozer’s prime years with those Cavs teams and they might have had more success therefore erasing LeBron’s departure.
4. Steve Nash, 2004
We have a second 2004 free agency appearance here as Steve Nash decided to take his awe-inspiring passes to Phoenix. Mark Cuban passed on giving Nash a long-term contract at age 30 and Phoenix swooped in with a six-year deal. While Dallas fans never loved Nash like Dirk, it has to be hard watching your star PG leave and win two MVP awards and steal headlines for years with his incredible passes. While some will point to Mike D’Antoni’s system in why Nash exploded I still think Mark Cuban would like to take this decision back.
3. Shaquille O’Neal, 1996
The Magic won 60 games and made the NBA Finals in Shaq’s last year. The team was looking ahead to a bright future with a then 24-year-old Shaq at the helm. The Lakers that summer had already made a significant move trading for the rights to someone named Kobe Bryant and then went out and outbid Orlando for the superstar center. Shaq signed a seven-year, $120 million contract and the rest is history. This plummeted Orlando into a sea of mediocrity for several years and then bottoming out in the 2003-04 season with a measly 21 wins before being fortunate enough to draft a young man named Dwight Howard. I would feel even worse for Orlando, but they have Disney World so I don’t feel as bad.
2. LeBron James, 2010
While this was technically a sign-and-trade between Miami and Cleveland, it makes the list considering there was an hour long television show just for James to announce he was leaving “The Land.” This one stung. King James took those talents to South Beach and left behind a truly devastated fan base. You always know when a players departure hits home hard when the reaction upon their first return is as hostile as the one James endured. Not only that, but the letter from Dan Gilbert only fueled the fire in Cleveland’s agony. The Cavs immediately became one of the worst teams in the league and were unwatchable the next season.
1. Kevin Durant, 2016
This one was truly crushing. This one tops the list because Kevin Durant’s departure meant not only pain for OKC, but for the entire league. The entire NBA world was disappointed in this decision and after the last two seasons we can see why. The NBA is as scripted as ever with Durant leaving to form the ultimate super team in Golden State, and they show little signs of slowing down. Durant left a title contending team with as passionate a fanbase as there is in the NBA to switch on to the squad who just came back down 3-1 to beat him. If that isn’t a gut-punch to fans, I don’t know what is.
There it is. That’s the list. As free agency soon begins, I hope none of you are devastated in the ways these five moves made their fans feel. However, it is free agency which spells joy for one and doom for another. Good luck, have fun and may the free agency gods be ever in your favor.