The amnesty clause, stretch provision and rapidly rising salary cap made toxic contracts less burdensome in the last decade than other times. On the highest levels, it was more about attracting top talent. Here are the most significant NBA signings – for better or worse – of the last decade (sign-and-trades that occurred after a player chose his destination count here):
10. Chris Bosh signs with Heat in 2010
He wasn’t the biggest star to sign with Miami that summer. Maybe the Heat still would have won big with their two superstars (more on them later) and Bosh’s big money divided among role players. But Miami signing three stars – not two stars and a few helpful role players – transfixed everyone. Considering how well he morphed into a supporting style, it’s easy to forget how good Bosh was with the Raptors. He was a go-to scorer, a perennial All-Star, a bona fide franchise player. And he played third fiddle for the Heat this summer.
9. Kyrie Irving signs with Nets in 2019
8. Kevin Durant signs with Nets in 2019
These signings go together, and obviously Brooklyn hasn’t accomplished anything notable yet. But Durant is an all-time great, and Irving is a true star. Them joining forces is notable – especially how they did it. Durant made waves by leaving the mighty Warriors. Irving caused an uproar by leaving the Celtics after pledging to re-sign. This was a wake-up call: Super teams can pop up anywhere.
7. Dwyane Wade signs with Heat in 2010
He also wasn’t the biggest star to sign with Miami that summer, and re-signing didn’t carry the same fanfare as switching teams. But Wade was an elite player who explored the market, especially the Bulls. Wade staying with the Heat keyed one of the biggest stories in NBA history and led to Miami winning two more titles.
6. Kawhi Leonard signs with Clippers in 2019
By leaving the Raptors, Leonard became the first consensus star to leave a defending champion for another team. That’s the Clippers’ gain, though we’ll see how far Leonard lifts L.A., especially considering his health concerns. Still, Leonard deserves the benefit of the doubt that he’ll manage his load through the long regular season and be ready for the playoffs. At his best, Leonard is arguably the NBA’s best player.
5. Stephen Curry signs four-year, $44 million extension with Warriors in 2012
When Curry was up for his rookie-scale contract extension, the Warriors reportedly told him they’d pay the max if he waited for free agency and got healthy. Instead, Curry — who’d been plagued by ankle injuries — took the security of this extension. That set the stage for a dynasty. Curry blossomed into an all-time great, and his bargain salary allowed Golden State to add Andre Iguodala then Kevin Durant. By not complaining about being underpaid, Curry helped set a team-first tone of sacrifice on the star-studded Warriors.
4. LeBron James signs with Lakers in 2018
LeBron immediately put the Lakers on another level. He didn’t immediately lift them from the lottery, but he changed how people viewed the once-great, but more-recently down-and-out franchise. With LeBron, the Lakers became an even bigger attention magnet. They lured Anthony Davis. Now, LeBron and Davis have Los Angeles back in title contention.
3. LeBron James signs with Cavaliers in 2014
LeBron does whatever he wants. Returning to Cleveland, where he was vilified? To a lousy team? Owned by Dan Gilbert, who wrote that heinous letter? That didn’t even have max cap room? LeBron demanded the Cavs do their part then made it all work. He forced the Cavaliers to clear more cap space, orchestrated a trade of No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, got Gilbert to spend huge, put the team on his back and – in the signature moment of his career –a ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought. Then, he left again.
2. Kevin Durant signs with Warriors in 2016
Durant both shook the rest of the league and torpedoed his own reputation by leaving the Thunder for the Warriors. Golden State won two straight titles and built a credible case as best team ever. But, despite his individual dominance, Durant couldn’t shake criticism for leaving the Thunder for the team that just beat them in the playoffs. Still, Durant led the Warriors to multiple championships. That’ll get remembered longer after heat-of-the-moment criticism fades.
1. LeBron James signs with Heat in 2010
This wasn’t just the biggest signing of the decade. It was the NBA’s biggest story of the decade. LeBron transformed the league’s power structure, tilting balance toward players. The NBA hasn’t been the same since. The Decision was pompous, and we still couldn’t look away. The Heat became the major story and generated massive attention. They delivered with four straight conference titles and two championships.