How much difference can one move make? When it’s made by LeBron James, it can reshape an entire league. The above graphic details the impact of transactions made solely by the Heat and Cavaliers, James’s former and current team. Michael Lee shows how the seismic event shook out in full, including a list below of teams and players who all got caught in the ripple effect.
LeBron James is often described as a freak of nature because of the influence his rare athletic gifts and intelligence can have on the basketball court. But his impact far exceeds his ability to attack the rim or set up his teammate with a perfect pocket pass. Off the court, players take cues from him on how to structure their contracts and build their individual brands, and companies look to him to convince the public what to eat, drink and wear, which phone to buy and which headphones they should use to listen to music.
James proved in the offseason he could alter the NBA like an agitated fault line, shaking up the foundations for more than half of the league’s teams.
You may have heard by now, but James decided to leave the fiesta in Miami to have a homecoming dance in Cleveland. You might not realize how that move helped Chris Bosh make an extra $30 million, directed Paul Pierce toward Washington and allowed the Minnesota Timberwolves to rebuild after trading Kevin Love.
The lasting effect of James’s latest move won’t be known for some time, but the tremors have been felt from Ohio to Florida to California to Massachusetts and nearly all parts in between, with almost 50 players affected.
Before James left Cleveland for Miami in 2010, the only free agent move to register as largely on the NBA Richter scale was Shaquille O’Neal’s abandonment of Orlando for the glam of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996. O’Neal’s relocation shifted the balance of power heavily in favor of the Western Conference, which continues to boast more talented teams two decades later.
The Eastern Conference has been top heavy for some time, and for the past six seasons, a team led by James is usually near the top. A two-time champion with four MVP trophies — two more than any other active player despite being two months shy of his 30th birthday — James is the leader of a league full of alpha males and egos and rules with an NBA-approved headband instead of a jeweled crown.
After the Heat lost in five games to the San Antonio Spurs, Bosh assumed he would chase a few more titles with James and Dwyane Wade — and anticipated taking a pay cut to make it happen. But when James fled without much warning, the Heat scrambled to keep its remaining talent, and that meant giving Bosh a five-year, $118 million deal to make sure he didn’t leave to form another talented all-star trio in Houston with Dwight Howard and James Harden.
The Rockets created cap space for a third star by dealing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik but became slightly less ambitious after getting spurned by Bosh. They let Chandler Parsons leave to sign with Dallas and made a more financially conservative move by luring Trevor Ariza from Washington. The Wizards then replaced Ariza with Pierce, a 10-time all-star.
On the night the Cavaliers took him No. 1 overall, Andrew Wiggins made a recruiting pitch for James to return home. James made no mention of Wiggins in his first-person essay with Sports Illustrated, and six weeks later, the 19-year-old became the first top pick since Chris Webber in 1993 to get traded without ever suiting up for a regular season game with the team that drafted him.
Love entered the summer thinking his desire to leave Minnesota would help the three-time all-star land in a bigger market such as New York, Chicago, Boston or Los Angeles. The Timberwolves were unsuccessful at convincing Golden State to surrender Klay Thompson but knew Wiggins would be headed their way, with Cleveland looking to appease James. Love eliminated the need for a big market because teaming with James brought the potential of winning it all.
Big name stars weren’t the only players whose summers were impacted by James. Scotty Hopson and Alonzo Gee became trade pawns to help teams clear up cap room; they were passed on to four and three teams, respectively, until both were finally waived.
Gordon Hayward visited Cleveland as a restricted free agent with the hope he would get an offer sheet. When the Cavaliers stalled to make a play for James, the restricted free agent found a willing bidder in Charlotte. Utah matched Charlotte’s $63 million offer, and the Hornets instead signed Lance Stephenson away from Indiana.
Stephenson is a longtime James instigator who became the subject of several Internet memes when he tried to upset James by blowing in James’s ear during the Eastern Conference finals. James shook his head and flashed an annoyed smile but was otherwise unmoved.
If it wasn’t clear then, it certainly is known now. Only one man really gets things set in motion around the NBA.
The moves made by the Cavaliers and Heat to try to court King James (illustrated above) involved eight teams, but that was just a portion of the grand total. James’s availability on the free agent market started a chain reaction that resonated throughout the summer and impacted a total of 18 NBA rosters. Here’s how the remaining ripples resonated around the league.
To make room for a possible run at James, Dallas shipped Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and Samuel Dalembert and two second-round picks to New York for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton.
Clearing space for their own potential run at James, the Rockets dealt Jeremy Lin plus first- and second-round draft picks to Los Angeles, receiving the rights to Sergei Lischuk in return.
Hornets, Jazz, Pacers
Once a target of the Cavaliers, Gordon Hayward signed offer sheet with Charlotte. When Utah matched it, the Hornets turned their attention to LeBron foil Lance Stephenson, luring him away from Indiana.
Mavericks, Rockets, Pelicans, Wizards, Celtics
Out of the LeBron chase, Dallas signed Chandler Parsons to an offer sheet. Houston declined to match, preferring to chase Chris Bosh. When Bosh returned to Miami for a mega deal unavailable before James’s departure, the Rockets opted for a sign-and-trade with Washington for Trevor Ariza. That transaction also sent Omer Asik and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans for Scotty Hopson (dealt to the Pelicans by the Hornets for cash July 13), Alonzo Gee and a 2015 first-round pick. Washington received Melvin Ely and a trade exception, then inked Paul Pierce to replace Ariza. The Wiz then used the trade exception to obtain Kris Humphries from the Celtics for a second-round pick.
With their money tied up with the offer sheet to Parsons, Vince Carter left Dallas to sign with Memphis.
Rockets, Kings, Nuggets
After acquiring Hopson and Gee, the Rockets packaged them with a pair of second-round draft picks for Sacramento guard Jason Terry and a trade exception. The Kings waived both Hopson and Gee in late September. Gee caught on with Denver during training camp and will reportedly make the roster for the 2014-15 season.