How the rich get richer: Five most competitively unfair player moves
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Miami Heat have apparently made their interest known in signing potential free agent Carmelo Anthony, a player of some considerable skill, perhaps you’ve heard, who would, no doubt, make the Heat a better basketball club. Every indication points to Anthony testing the free-agent waters come July 1, so it’s all but certain that Miami will try its hand at another big free-agent signing.
And this is the same club that is in the midst of battling for its third-straight championship with possibly four future Hall of Famers on the roster, so one could understand why everyone — excluding Heat fans — would be facepalming themselves should this coup actually be pulled off.
This happens all the time in sports, where a team of considerable skill or legacy is able to pull off a personnel move or two that leaves opposing fans bewildered but also not really shocked because This Is What They Do.
Let’s take a look at other transactions over the past 40 years that have rocked the sports world with their ambition and audacity. (Translation: "Why the hell couldn’t my team have done that?")
5. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics
Before the Heat, there were the Celtics. In late June 2007, Boston traded three players to Seattle for Ray Allen. A month later, they sent five players, two future first-round picks, and cash to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. Then they rebuilt the roster around those two and longtime Celtic Paul Pierce.
The result was exactly what every team looking to make the Big Free Agent Move likes to see transpire. The Celtics wasted no time putting up a ridiculous 66-16 regular-season record and then beat the Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals. They haven’t won a title since, but their execution, in the wake of those Allen and Garnett moves, was what every front office dreams about.
Spend the money? Make the trades? Anything is possible!
4. Randy Moss to the New England Patriots
Never underestimate the ability of Lane Kiffin to completely Lane Kiffin a good situation in record time. Before he brought the USC program to new lows, he made an immediate impression in 2007 by taking over as head coach of the Raiders and alienating star wide receiver Randy Moss. In three months’ time, Kiffin shipped Moss to the New England Patriots on the eve of the NFL Draft for a pittance, their fourth-round pick. Said Kiffin: "We felt this was the best scenario for both the Raiders and Randy."
Moss, who had just turned 30 and had already scored 101 touchdowns in his career, scored 50 more touchdowns over just three-plus seasons with New England. The team went 18-0 and reached the Super Bowl that first year — Moss pulled in 23 scores himself during the regular season, still a record for wide receivers — and the NFL may never again see such a lethal QB-to-WR combo as what we saw that one season.
It didn’t end well for Moss in New England, but no real surprise there, seeing as how this was Randy Moss we’re talking about.
The Raiders still have not made the playoffs since 2002.
3. LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat
The Heat had won a title as recently as 2006, when Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal teamed up to deliver South Beach its first banner. Then the Heat added LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010, and the NBA hasn’t been the same since.
Rewatching footage from The Decision after so many years, it’s incredible how nervous James looks during the interview. Also, we may get to do it all again this summer or next. Whee!
2. Gary Payton and Karl Malone to the Los Angeles Lakers
As the summer of 2003 dawned, the Lakers’ run of three straight titles had just come to an end and the team was looking to improve on a squad that had won just 50 games the season before. With Shaq and Kobe already in tow, the Lakers went for an unprecedented free-agent splash, signing both Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two all-time stars who were still among the most skilled players in the game. Payton had career averages of 20 points and eight assists and instantly became the team’s new starting point guard, while Malone — the second-best scorer in NBA history — was meant to form a startling 4-5 frontcourt combo with O’Neal, who was still as imposing as ever. With such stocked talent, a championship seemed like an inevitability.
Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The Lakers did advance to the NBA Finals, but the Pistons’ smothering defense held LA to just 81 points a game and won the series for Detroit in just five games. Malone retired, Payton signed with Boston before going to Miami (where he finally won a title in 2006, with Shaq), and the Lakers didn’t win another title until 2009.
Malone didn’t actually retire until midway through the following season. He opted out of his Lakers contract and said that he would only return to the NBA if it was with Los Angeles. However, his relationship with Bryant bottomed out that winter and a return to Los Angeles was quickly quashed.
1. Reggie Jackson to the New York Yankees
Reggie Jackson had already won three World Series and a Most Valuable Player award in Oakland, and the Yankees, the most successful franchise in baseball history, had a deep-pocketed owner willing to build on a 97-win team in 1976 that got swept in the World Series by Cincinnati. Considering that the Yankees hadn’t actually won a title since 1962, when they beat the San Francisco Giants in seven games, the choice for George Steinbrenner was a no-brainer. His five-year, $2.96 million offer wooed Jackson east, the Yankees won the next two World Series behind Jackson’s timely hitting, and the modern era of big-time free agency in baseball had officially made its mark on the sport.
Of course, it was also a highly contentious and tumultuous time almost from the moment Jackson signed with New York. Teammates hated Jackson, Jackson hated manager Billy Martin, Steinbrenner made everyone’s lives miserable, and so it went. But Jackson was the hero of the 1977 World Series, so it was all good, as the kids say.
After the ’78 World Series win, the Yankees didn’t win another title for 18 years, a sign that should give hope to fans of teams lamenting the one that got away: All the great teams, eventually, come down to earth.