Visualization: The far-reaching impact of LeBron James' free agency
Every year the NBA's most compelling free agent wields a tremendous amount of influence. This summer that power was projected through inactivity.
For more than a week, at what is typically the most frantic stretch of the season, the basketball world held steady while LeBron James planned his next move. Players across all tiers waited to see where James and other marquee talents might land. Teams sat on cap space until hearing a verdict from their primary targets. Agents advised their clients to hold out until James' signing, which figured to blow open the market.
Indeed, as soon as James revealed his intentions to sign with the Cavaliers, reports of other agreements cascaded in. Some were a direct product of James' choice; others were only tangentially related as the result of a logjam cleared. All told, though, the reach of James' decision was obvious.
Below is a visualization of that reach, which to date includes 66 players (excluding draft picks or unused trade exceptions) and 18 teams:
James' signing in some way queued every item depicted, though the further we trace from James the more convoluted the causalities become. Take, for example, Vince Carter's choice to sign with the Grizzlies. This might at first seem so removed from James and the Cavaliers as to be irrelevant, but there is a distinct connection: LeBron's commitment to the Cavs changed the course of Chris Bosh's free agency, which then led Bosh to sign a five-year max deal to remain with Miami while turning down Houston, which then caused the Rockets to pass on matching the Mavericks' offer sheet to Chandler Parsons, which then led to Dallas landing Parsons and filling out its room under the cap, which then prevented the Mavs from making the necessary offer to entice Carter to return. Did LeBron cause Carter to sign in Memphis? No. But the four-time MVP's timing and decision set those events in motion, resulting in a much-needed wing complement for the Grizzlies.
A few notes to help with the navigation of this chart:
• The visualization is intended to be read from the inside out, beginning with LeBron James and branching out first to either the Cavaliers or Heat. These teams were most affected by James' choice, and from there the ripples can be traced around the league.
• The gray boxes represent actions or interests of some kind, from trades and signings to free agent courtship.
• Two players – Alonzo Gee and Scotty Hopson – appear twice on the chart for logistical reasons. There was no other way to simply show that both had been involved in multiple transactions. Hopson was first traded from the Cavs to the Hornets, then from the Hornets to the Pelicans and finally from the Pelicans to the Rockets. Gee was traded from the Cavs to the Pelicans and also ended up being dealt to the Rockets. Both players are expected to be waived, as their inclusion in each deal hinged on their nonguaranteed salaries.
• Player boxes are color-coordinated with the team for which the player is set to play. Ray Allen is the only player shown who is unattached, though a few others (including Hopson and Gee) may soon join him.
A few more clarifications as to the actions involved:
• "Salary dump" -- A trade designed for a team to shed salary without accepting as much in return. In some cases, the dumping team will receive nothing of notable worth.
• "Hedged" -- A move that helps protect a team from some offseason outcome. The only instance here applies to Indiana, which prepared for Lance Stephenson's possible departure by signing shooting guard C.J. Miles.
• "Lured" -- A move that makes a subsequent one possible. For example: James' arrival in Cleveland enticed Mike Miller to sign there as well. The veteran sharpshooter would not have signed with the Cavs had LeBron not done so first.
• "Backup plan" -- A contingency in the case that a team's first free agent option fell through. In some cases, that first option was James; in others, it was merely a player (Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, etc.) influenced by his actions.