15 biggest free agent deals in NBA history

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15 biggest free agent deals in NBA history originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Free agency offers NBA players a chance for some new scenery and a whole lot of cash. In these cases, stars got both.

Teams work well ahead of time – sometimes years in advance – to open up the necessary salary cap space to lure in marquee free agents. The New York Knicks went through that process this offseason, offloading several contracts and clearing nearly $30 million in cap space for their pursuit of Jalen Brunson.

That pursuit was a successful one, as Brunson reportedly agreed to a four-year, $104 million deal on the first day of free agency. A payday that size puts him in the company of a few all-time greats, as well.

Not every team is simply able to acquire its new centerpiece as a free agent, though. To properly facilitate the addition, certain players were brought in via a sign-and-trade that allowed both sides to match contracts or give the player’s old team compensation back.

With free agency underway, here are the 15 biggest free agent contracts of all time from players who found a new home (ranked by total salary):

15. Jalen Brunson

Four years, $104,000,000

After spending his first four NBA seasons in Dallas, Brunson decided to cash out in the Big Apple. With his $104 million total, he surpasses Kawhi Leonard’s initial Clippers deal as the 15th-richest free agent contract for a player switching teams.

14. Al Horford, Philadelphia 76ers

Four years, $109,000,000

Horford opted out of another lucrative four-year deal to sign one with the Sixers in 2019. He lasted just one year in Philly before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The veteran big man played with three teams over the first three years of that deal and has another season left before he is set to hit free agency again.

T-12. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

Six years, $109,837,500 (via sign-and-trade)

Bosh sacrificed some potential salary to help form the Big Three with the Miami Heat in 2011. The move paid off, as he won two NBA titles and signed a five-year, $118 million deal in 2014.

T-12. LeBron James, Miami Heat

Six years, $109,837,500 (via sign-and-trade)

James joined Bosh in Miami with the same six-year deal. Unlike Bosh, James’ time in Miami was shorter than the six years he initially signed on for. After losing the 2014 Finals, James exercised the early termination option in his contract and rejoined the Cleveland Cavaliers

11. Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Four years, $113,326,228

Horford’s first big free agent move came in 2016, when he left the Atlanta Hawks to join the Celtics. He opted out of the fourth year in that deal and signed the aforementioned contract with the Sixers. While his Philly tenure was far from what he expected, things worked out as he ended up back in Boston and made his first Finals appearance in 2022.

10. D’Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors

Four years, $117,325,500 (via sign-and-trade)

Russell is set to enter the final year of a $117 million contract. He began that deal with the Warriors but played just 33 games with the franchise before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Russell was key in facilitating another massive free agent deal in 2019, which we will get to in a bit.

9. Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic

Six years, $118,200,000 (via sign-and-trade)

After spending the first six years of his NBA career with the Seattle SuperSonics, he made his first move a lucrative one. He inked a six-year, $118 million deal to join the Orlando Magic in 2007 and helped the franchise reach the Finals in his second season with the organization. Lewis was dealt to the Washington Wizards in the fourth year of his contract.

8. Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers

Seven years, $120,000,000 million

Speaking of Orlando, one of its biggest ever stars left the team for an unprecedented free agent deal in 1996. O’Neal signed the largest contract in NBA history at the time and made it worth every penny for the Lakers, who had a championship three-peat during his eight-year tenure.

7. Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets

Four years, $120 million (via sign-and-trade)

Hayward’s time with the Charlotte Hornets has not gone according to plan. The forward signed the biggest deal in franchise history in 2020 but has played just 93 regular season games across two seasons. Still, Hayward has two years left on his deal to turn things around in Charlotte.

6. Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics

Four years, $127,829,970

Hayward’s free agent history mirrors Horford’s, just with a little more money. Both signed four-year deals with the Celtics, opted out after three years and signed slightly cheaper four-year deals with new teams. While his former teammate found himself back in Boston, Hayward is in line to begin his third season with the Hornets in the fall.

5. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

Four years, $136,490,600

Irving opted out of his deal with the Celtics like Horford and Hayward to become a free agent and joined a partner on his new team in 2019. Irving opted into the final year of his Nets deal just days before his June 28 deadline despite building speculation that he might explore other options.

T-3. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

Four years, $140,790,600 (via sign-and-trade)

When Irving became a free agent in 2019, the Celtics paid a steep price to bring in another All-Star point guard. Boston put together a sign-and-trade to acquire Walker and gave him an even pricier deal than the one Irving got in Brooklyn. Walker spent just two seasons in Boston before getting dealt to Oklahoma City alongside a first-round pick as Horford went back to the Celtics.

T-3. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Four years, $140,790,600 (via sign-and-trade)

After playing with three teams in three years, Butler found a new home during free agency in 2019. The Sixers and Heat were able to facilitate a sign-and-trade that got Butler to Miami on the same contract that Walker earned the same offseason. He led the Heat to a Finals appearance in his first season with the team and almost got them back there in 2022. Butler has one year left before entering free agency once again.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Four years, $153,312,846

James signed the biggest contract of his career when he joined his third team. He signed with the Lakers on a four-year, $153 million contract in 2018, ending his second stint with the Cavs. He signed a two-year, $85 million extension in 2020 that will keep him in L.A. through the end of next season. Unless he signs another extension, another LeBron sweepstakes could be underway in 2023.

1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Four years, 164,255,700 (via sign-and-trade)

Durant’s four-year, $164 million deal from 2019 is the largest ever for a player switching teams. He made the move after three seasons with the Warriors in which he earned two Finals MVPs. Durant arrived in Brooklyn thanks to the same sign-and-trade that sent Russell to Golden State and joined forces with Irving, who signed his four-year deal during the same free agency period.

The 12-time All-Star signed a whopping four-year, $198 million extension in 2021 that will keep him under contract through 2026. Where he plays, though, is now the biggest question of the NBA offseason.