NBA free agency has been a looming topic for several months now, due to the quality of the players available.  Perhaps the biggest rumor is that multiple All-Stars will decide to sign with the same club, creating a new juggernaut franchise in the NBA.  The more this rumor is pushed out there, the more people seem to forget that this simply doesn’t happen in any sport.  Think back and try to remember the last time two guys took less money to play together.  Try to remember guys sacrificing money and statistics in favor of the mere chance to win a championship.  I can think of just one example in the modern sporting era.

In 2003 NHL All-Stars Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne left their previous teams (Anaheim and San Jose respectively) to sign with the Colorado Avalanche while both taking massive pay cuts.  The two were close off-ice friends and had been teammates previously with the Anaheim Ducks.  The results didn’t match their desire, as Kariya struggled with injuries and Selanne was ineffective.  Their previous chemistry failed to re-emerge.  In the end they would play just one year together in Colorado.  Selanne would eventually win his Stanley Cup (ironically with the Ducks in 2007) while Kariya has not come close since his 2003 finals appearance with Anaheim. 

This is the only documented instance that I can remember of two star players foregoing dollars and numbers to win.  And it was unsuccessful.  Clearly one or two players can have more of an impact in the NBA than in the NHL, but across all leagues it just doesn’t happen.  It seems like every few years it’s speculated that Team X is “the favorite” to land multiple marquee free agents.  In the end, it turns out to be idle speculation.

The Chicago Bulls cleared the decks in the post-MJ era, expecting a windfall of free agents.  They settled for overpaying Ron Mercer, who played all of one and a half years in Chicago before he was traded to Indiana.  Anybody remember when Baron Davis was supposed to be joining his good friend Elton Brand in Los Angeles in the summer of 2008?  Only to have his buddy Brand sign a free agent deal with Philly only days after Davis signed on to the Clips?  If that kind of thing can go one between guys who are good friends off the floor, how are we supposed to swallow the idea that multiple franchise-level players are going to sacrifice numbers and (more importantly) dollars in order to win?

I think it’s certainly possible that we see one or more marquee free agents change teams this summer, but I don’t buy all the conspiracy theory that one club is going to land multiple players (and even coaches) due to back-room style agreements.  History shows us that just doesn’t occur, and with good reason.  Ask Joe Smith and the Minnesota Timberwolves how dangerous it can be to cut a deal in the shadows.

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