NBA Roundtable

1996 Free Agency

In Free Agency on June 6, 2010 at 1:17 am

“We have never had a free agency like this before”

This isn’t quite true … there was one year that I can recall that could give this year’s free agency class a run for it’s money — the summer of 1996.

  • Michael Jordan — flirted with the Knicks, talks of an ownership stake, before accepting the largest single year payout in NBA History of $35 million.
  • Shaquille O’Neal — left the Magic to join the Lakers for $126 million for six years to create a powerhouse in the Western Conference
  • Charles Barkely — heavily linked with the Knicks but instead forced a sign and trade to the Houston Rockets to join Olajuwon and Drexler to create a Big Three.

Edit: Barkley was entering the final year of his contract in 1996 and forced a sign and trade with that leverage. Not a sign and trade. I was remembering him being linked heavily with the Knicks who were below the cap but he was not actually a free agent … this is the problem with writing a post almost solely off one’s memories from events that happened almost 15 years ago.

  • Alonzo Mourning — All-NBA center and would become an MVP candidate down the road. Forced his way out of Charlotte the year before to join a team that was willing to pay him (Miami) and signed a $100 million deal in 1996. I believe Alonzo’s deal was the first $100+ million contract in NBA History.
  • Dikembe Mutombo — left the Nuggets to join the Hawks for a five year $50-55 million deal.
  • Reggie Miller — heavily linked with the Knicks but Miller choose to stay loyal to Indiana and NY went with the younger option instead.
  • Allan Houston — left the Pistons to join the Knicks
  • Kenny Anderson — An 17/8 point guard with a great pedigree who left the Hornets to join the Blazers. Also, heavily linked to the Knicks.
  • Juwan Howard — Howard tried to join the Miami Heat but his deal was revoked by the NBA (Miami couldn’t afford Howard + Alonzo) and he instead stayed in Washington for $100 million..

Larry Johnson was not a free agent but was acquired as part of the Knicks rebuilding efforts that was spurred by their cap space. LJ was a backup plan after they struck out on Barkley + Reggie. The Knicks traded Anthony Mason (and Brad Lohas) to acquire LJ’s huge 12 year $84 million contract.

New York

You see New York popping up a lot here.

  • Michael Jordan was the first target. Also talk of Phil Jackson leaving Chicago to come home to NY (where he played for the Knicks in the 1970s) and lead the Knicks to a title.
  • The second plan was to go after Charles Barkley + Reggie Miller + Kenny Anderson but instead they settled for younger versions of those players in Larry Johnson + Allan Houston + Chris Childs.

Quick Recap

  • The MVP — Michael Jordan
  • MVP candidate + future of the league — Shaq
  • All-NBA player + future MVP candidate — Alonzo Mourning
  • DPOY + All-Star + still a young player — Mutombo
  • HoF + All-Star — Reggie Miller
  • Borderline All-Stars — Allan Houston, Juwan Howard, Kenny Anderson
  • Also, Larry Johnson and Charles Barkley trade wise.

Those are only the players that I can remember from that draft class. There was a huge amount of talent that year and New York + the LA Lakers had massive cap space and the Bulls and Magic (two contenders) were heavily involved also.

  • Seattle (another contender) also signed Jim McIlvaine to a ridiculous seven year $33.6 million deal … a move that led to the departure of Shawn Kemp 12 months later — McIlvaine was earning almost as much as Kemp was and Kemp wanted to renegotiate his contract but the Sonics were above the cap and unable to renegotiate, so Kemp forced a trade to Cleveland the following summer because they were below the cap and willing to give him a seven year $100 million contract.
  • San Antonio acquired Dominique Wilkins (former All-Star, still a quality player, scored 18ppg the next season) late in the summer to join their squad. Another contender, albeit a team that was decimated by injuries that season which led to the acquisition of Tim Duncan.
  • Not sure but Tim Hardaway (All-Star, All-NBA talent) might have been a free agent also. He was traded to Miami midway through the previous season and stuck with the Heat. Not 100% sure on that though.
  1. Hi Dave

    Amazing post.

    As I told you before, I contribute to, one of the main french nba fan site. I would like to write a post inspired by this. Would that be ok with you ?

  2. Hey Julien,

    Of course, please feel free to write your article.

    Correction on Charles Barkely

    Not actually a free agent. He had one year left on his deal and used that as leverage to force a trade to Houston. Not a sign and trade as I initially wrote. That is the problem with writing an entire post from memories from of events from 15 years ago!

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