FanPost

Where do top NBA free agents go?

There’s a very interesting article at TheNBAGeek.com arguing that NBA free agents choose their destinations based on team success rather than market size.

I’ve agreed with this logic for many years, and I would bet many others do as well. The Lakers don’t historically get free agents because they’re in LA; they get them because the Lakers are historically a winning team. Right? And the Wolves’ regularly fail to attract free agents because they’re regularly inept, despite their top-15 market size status. Correct?

What I wonder is, does this logic apply to the "top" free agents in any year’s class? Those truly desirable payers who are in their primes, are highly sought after, and who are presumably capable of choosing their destination? **

** Meaning: (1) No reasonable team would turn them down if they expressed interest; (2) the player chooses his most desired team from amongst those with the cap space or wherewithal to absorb him in compliance with NBA rules; and (3) let’s keep it to unrestricted free agents, those players who have true freedom of choice.

I would imagine Kevin Love might fall into this category in a couple of years. Will he really go to the Lakers?

Over the 10 free agencies prior to this 2013 class, I picked out those players I would call the most "desirable" (at least at the time, and not necessarily in hindsight). What happened with them?

Year

Player

Signing Team

Free Agency Outcome

2003

Tim Duncan

Spurs

Resigned

Jason Kidd

Nets

Resigned

Gilbert Arenas

Wizards

Moved

2004

Kobe Bryant

Lakers

Resigned

Steve Nash

Suns

Moved

Rasheed Wallace

Pistons

Resigned

2005

Michael Redd

Bucks

Resigned

Ray Allen

Supersonics

Resigned

2007

Vince Carter

Nets

Resigned

Chauncey Billups

Pistons

Resigned

2008

Baron Davis

Clippers

Moved

Elton Brand

76ers

Moved

2010

LeBron James

Heat

Moved

Dwyane Wade

Heat

Resigned

Chris Bosh

Heat

Moved

Joe Johnson

Hawks

Resigned

Amare Stoudemire

Knicks

Moved

2012

Deron Williams

Nets

Resigned

The top free agents who stayed with their teams:

Most of them simply chose to stick with already-winning situations.

  • Tim Duncan was never going to leave the multiple-championship Spurs for the potential of a Tracy McGrady collaboration on the Orlando Magic.
  • Jason Kidd came into his free agency off of two straight Finals appearances with the Nets.
  • Sure, Kobe Bryant flirted with the Clippers, but who thought that was actually serious? Could he really force Shaq off the team and then just bolt? The Lakers were coming off of yet another Finals appearance, and he’d just beat a rape charge. Keep winnin’, baby.
  • Rasheed Wallace stayed with the champion Pistons following his mid-season arrival from Atlanta.
  • Chauncey Billups, a few years later, stayed with those same Pistons. The previous four years: 2 straight NBA Finals, followed by 2 straight Conference Finals.
  • Vince Carter and the Nets (featuring the aforementioned Jason Kidd) continued to play very well, advancing in the playoffs in consecutive years as VC hit free agency.
  • Michael Redd, Ray Allen, and Joe Johnson stayed with their teams despite what might be called "middling" playoff success. But those teams did all make and advance in the playoffs in the preceding years.
  • Deron Williams stayed with the Nets. Probably because it would look really freakin' stupid to demand a trade there, corrupting the Utah structure in the process, and then take off with yet another girl just a few months later.

The top free agents who moved on:

Is the common denominator here success, market size, or the vagaries of human emotion?

  • Gilbert Arenas left a mediocre Warriors team for an equally-mediocre Wizards squad. And got paid a sh**-ton of money in the process.
  • Steve Nash wanted to stay with the on-the-rise Mavericks, but Mark Cuban uncharacteristically closed his wallet. So Nash went back to the Suns, where he had previous history.
  • Baron Davis left the so-so Warriors to play for the historically-cursed Clippers. They were his hometown team, but more importantly they had a plan to pair him with Elton Brand. Much success was anticipated for this lowly franchise.
  • Elton Brand was supposed to stay with the Clippers and team up with Davis. Instead, he jilted them and stunned the NBA by signing with the 76ers, an also-ran in the East. The lesson: the Clippers suck at historical levels (at least until recently… weird, right?).
  • Amare Stoudemire left a Conference Finals contender in the Suns for the bright lights of NYC. The Knicks were… umm, bad. Just plain bad. No reason to go there other than the fame a boatload of cash, which few teams were willing to give to such a suspect set of knees. Amare really shouldn't even be on this list.

The Heat:

LeBron, Wade, and Bosh colluded to team up together. It didn’t matter who they played for the year before, or what the Heat’s 2009-2010 record might have been.

The conclusions:

I draw three immediate conclusions from this.

  1. Top free agents on winning teams stay with their winning teams. Whether they’re in small markets or big markets.
  2. Top free agents on mediocre teams maybe go for bigger markets. New York, LA, Philadelphia, Houston. Or maybe they don’t have any rhyme or reason at all, just going wherever suits them at the time. In any case, winning itself doesn’t seem to matter.
  3. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh colluded. They colluded big time.

I tend to agree with the NBA Geek on a logical level, that most free agents will seek success over market size, but I don’t know for sure. The "top" free agents? Those who are winning stay where the winning’s good. Those who aren’t… well, it looks like it's "case-by-case" status for them.

Where would Dwight Howard fit in with all of this? He left a so-so Lakers team for the Houston Rockets. Did he choose the Rockets for their winning potential? Because there’s less media pressure? Or maybe because a bunch of dudes from Houston were randomly vacationing in Aspen over the Fourth of July and Dwight bumped into them?

Who knows? That’s exactly the point when top players leave their teams in free agency.

What does this all this mean for Kevin Love, should he reach the opt-out point in his Timberwolves contract and exercise it? It suggests that even moderate playoff success will be enough to keep him here. And maybe that’s the most important lesson of all.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Canis Hoopus

You must be a member of Canis Hoopus to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Canis Hoopus. You should read them.

Join Canis Hoopus

You must be a member of Canis Hoopus to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Canis Hoopus. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker