There were rumors of the biggest free agents on the market -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- potentially playing together (whether it was in Miami, Chicago or Cleveland), but few thought they would actually agree to less money to team up. Why? It's never been done before. But when Chris Bosh announced he would join Wade in Miami, and LeBron made "The Decision" to "take his talents to South Beach," the Heat instantly became the most talented, and hated team, in the league.
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The 2009-10 season was overshadowed by LeBron's pending free agency. He stayed fairly quiet through it all, dropping only a few misleading hints to Larry King after the Cavs' season had ended. But when he decided to air his decision, er "The Decision," in a one-hour special on ESPN, fans' vision of a mature and humble LeBron James was shattered. To recap: He said he "took his talents" to Miami, he "spoiled" fans with his play and, looking back, he doesn't believe Cavs owner Dan Gilbert "ever cared about LeBron."
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When LeBron decided to leave Cleveland, team owner Dan Gilbert lashed out at his former superstar via an open letter (written in Comic Sans font) to Cavs fans. He called LeBron's decision a "cowardly betrayal" and guaranteed "that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former 'king' wins one."
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Almost as soon as members of the Big Three announced they were joining forces in Miami, talk of the top potential 2011 free agent began. Carmelo Anthony, who has one year remaining on his contract, was offered a three-year, $65 million extension from the Nuggets. But he's publicly said he's in no hurry to sign it, even with a new collective bargaining agreement and potential lockout on the horizon. Like LeBron, he's yet to speak publicly about rumors surrounding his future (the latest being that he'd be interested in the Rockets in addition to the Knicks), meaning this could drag on all year.
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Chris Paul aired his displeasure with the Hornets on many occasions and it came to head in July when it was reported that he wanted to join the Knicks, Magic or Lakers. While at Carmelo Anthony's wedding in New York, he and Amar'e Stoudemire supposedly took interest in the idea of creating their own Big Three in New York. But the Hornets refused to trade Paul, the heart of their team who has two years left on his contract. (They did trade his backup, Darren Collison, for swingman Trevor Ariza.)
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While LeBron needed an hour on primetime television to announce his decision, Kevin Durant needed only 140 characters to reveal his. The league's youngest scoring champ quietly told the world on Twitter that he agreed to a five-year, $86 million extension with the Thunder. Weeks later, Durant became the face of Team USA as it prepared for the FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
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Between Gilbert Arenas' gun incident and the team's 26-56 record, the 2009-10 season was one the Wizards would like to forget. But on May 18, they were given a reprieve when they landed the top pick in the draft. As expected, they selected Kentucky sensation John Wall, who gives Washington a star to build around while Arenas' role with the team remains in question. Wall topped Kentucky's record of five first-round draft picks: DeMarcus Cousins went fifth, Patrick Patterson 14th, Eric Bledsoe 18th and Daniel Orton 29th.
8 of 16Jennifer Pottheiser, Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images; Damen Jackson/Icon SMI; Jeffery A. Salter/SI; AP
A handful of top-notch power forwards landed on new teams, either by free agency or via trades. Chris Bosh, the biggest name of the bunch, joined LeBron and Wade in Miami, while Amar'e Stoudemire left Phoenix for the bright lights of New York. His arrival paved the way for David Lee's departure, as he joined the Warriors in a sign-and-trade. And just when it seemed Chicago had lost on out the free agency sweepstakes, Carlos Boozer agreed to five-year, $80 million deal with the Bulls via sign-and-trade. The Jazz, meanwhile, acquired Al Jefferson, the Timberwolves' leading scorer last season, for a pair of first-round picks.
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The league-wide shuffle wasn't limited to the players. Nearly a month after announcing he would step down as the Nets' GM, Rod Thorn became the 76ers' president. Danny Ferry wasn't granted an extension by the Cavs, and assistant Chris Grant took over. A month after Jeff Bower and the Hornets mutually parted ways, Dell Demps took over the Hornets. In the West, Kevin Pritchard was fired as Blazers GM an hour before the July 24 draft and was later replaced by Rich Cho, formerly the assistant GM for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Phoenix, president and GM Steve Kerr, along with assistant David Griffin, called it quits. They were replaced by former agent Lon Babby and ex-Cavs assistant GM Lance Blanks. The Nuggets fired top execs Mark Warkentien and Rex Champman, and reportedly named Masai Uriji their new GM.
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Talk about a New York nightmare. Isiah Thomas, who was blamed for running the Knicks into the ground and inflating their payroll during his stint as team president, agreed to become a consultant for the team ... even though he is the coach at Florida International University. The NBA didn't approve the deal -- the league prohibits anyone who coaches or works for a college program from working for any of the league's 30 teams -- much to the chagrin of James Dolan.
11 of 16Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images; Greg Nelson/SI
Call him the Big Shamrock. Shaquille O'Neal agreed to take the veteran's minimum and sign a two-year deal with the Celtics, giving Boston a fill-in while Kendrick Perkins recovers from knee surgery (the reigning East champions also signed Jermaine O'Neal). In addition to getting Shaq, the Celtics kept their aging Big Three together by re-signing Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, two members of their 2008 title-winning group.
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A year after he received a five-year, $53 million deal from Toronto as part of a four-team trade, Hedo Turkoglu was dealt again this offseason. The 2008 Most Improved Player said in a TV interview in May that he was unhappy with the Raptors' management and wanted out of Toronto. And on July 14, he got his wish: The Raps traded him to Phoenix in exchange for Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones. Meanwhile, Trevor Ariza, who was a key component in the Lakers' 2009 title win, signed with the Rockets that summer for five years and roughly $33 million. But on Aug. 11 this summer, he was sent to New Orleans in a four-team swap.
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To the delight of many Golden State fans, Chris Cohan's reign is over. The longtime owner sold the Warriors to venture capitalist and Celtics minority owner Joe Lacob and Mandalay Entertainment chief Peter Guber for a record $450 million. The sale wasn't without controversy, though. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who was considered the favorite to buy the team, was denied the purchase, even though he claimed he made the biggest offer.
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After the Magic were eliminated in the playoffs, Matt Barnes announced he would opt out of the last year of his contract. On July 23, he signed with the Lakers, joining Ron Artest in becoming an annoyance turned teammate of Kobe Bryant's. Barnes' shooting and grit off the bench, the addition of point guard Steve Blake and the return of Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson ensure that the back-to-back champs will be a title favorite again.
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Regarded as the greatest team ever assembled, the 1992 U.S. Olympic team was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in August. With legends such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, the Dream Team pummeled its opponents by an average of 44 points a game en route to winning the gold medal in Barcelona. Two members of the team, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen, also were inducted into the Hall as individuals this year.
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After undergoing complex foot surgery and missing the entire 2009-10 season, Rockets center Yao Ming was cleared to return. GM Daryl Morey said the team plans to limit Yao's minutes early in season, but the All-Star's return is undoubtedly the biggest boost to the Rockets' lineup, which includes Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks, midseason acquisition Kevin Martin and newly re-signed power forward Luis Scola.
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