NBA: Top 5 earth-shattering free agent signings in the recent past
There is a widely held belief that the only way to win in the NBA is through the draft, and not the free agency. It's true that the centre pieces of a championship are usually acquired in the draft, but the difference is usually made via a trade or a free agent signing.
Players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry all won rings with the team that got them on draft night. It did need additions from free agency or via trade to get them over the hump, but they had their core built through the draft.
That being said, there have been some free agent signings on the recent past which altered the competitive landscape of the league. Here's a look at the tip five free agent signings in the league in the recent past:
5) Dwight Howard
There was a time when Dwight Howard was undisputedly the best big man in the league. The Orlando Magic rode him all the way to the Finals in 2009 by surrounding him with shooters. Dropping 40-20 wasn't the norm for him, but it wasn't a stretch either.
In 2013, Howard signed a 4 year, $87 million contract with the Houston rockets, the fourth year being a player option. Along with James Harden, he formed one of the more formidable one-two punch in the league for three years. The Rockets made it to the playoffs every year he was with them, but they never got to the NBA Finals.
In the 2015 season, the Rockets fired coach Kevin McHale just 11 games in the season. McHale had led the Rockets to the Conference Finals. Their record was 4-7 at the point and they spent the rest of the season in a tailspin, trying to recover the form which led them to the Western Conference Finals. But the ship was never righted, as they lost in the first round in 2016 playoffs against the Warriors.
The Rockets had always prided themselves on acquiring under the radar gems, Moreyball was a byword for Daryl Morey's adroit moves. One could argue that had they not got Howard, there is a chance that the Rockets could have struck big later as they were accumulating assets to make a big move for a very long time.
Following this defeat, Dwight Howard chose to sign with his hometown team, the Atlanta Hawks in 2016. In his three seasons with the Rockets, Howard averaged 16 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Another great impact Howard’s signing with the Rockets was that the Lakers were effectively pushed into tanking mode. Howard was at one point groomed to succeed Kobe Bryant in Los Angles, but his leaving ensured that Kobe’s waning years were spent out of contention. Also, free agents never left the Lakers. They were supposed to be proud to play for them. That is before Howard took the first step.