Visualization: The far-reaching impact of Dwight Howard’s free agency
Top free agents are often likened to dominoes for their powers of cause and effect, but the momentum of those stars’ signing shouldn’t be misconstrued as some straight-line chain reaction. For the most coveted players, a simple decision can stretch to the ends of the league in ripples and tangents. Franchises around the NBA move players and clear salary-cap space to compete for just a few superstars. One team fulfills its pursuit by getting a signature on the dotted line. Countless others scramble in the lead-up and the aftermath of that signing, with little to show for their efforts but barren rosters and unused cap room.
Such was the case this summer with the widespread competition to acquire Dwight Howard, the one superstar who actually went through the process of free-agent courtship. Howard’s decision to sign with Houston brought about vast, swift consequences. In addition to the Rockets, four other suitors for Howard were sent spiraling in different directions — each to move on from the letdown in its own way.
You can see what resulted in the image above (click here for a larger version): This was hardly some line of dominoes, but a full network that ultimately looped in 17 teams and 55 players, if not more.
Some guidance on the navigation of the chart:
• Although Howard got to make the call on his future, this chart is oriented to primarily showcase the workings of his five major suitors: the Rockets, Warriors, Lakers, Hawks and Mavericks. Start from one of those points and maneuver around the chart using the gray boxes (which signify actions or interest).
Example: On the left side of the chart, you’ll see the following progression: HAWKS –> SIGNED FOR DEPTH –> ELTON BRAND.
• Player boxes are color-coordinated with the team for which the players are set to play. Players who are still free agents have plain, black-and-white boxes.
Also, some clarification as to the actions involved, and how they’re relevant to Howard:
• “Plan B” — A team’s primary backup plan after missing out on signing Howard.
• “Salary Dump” — A trade designed for a team to shed salary without accepting as much in return, primarily in an effort to clear more cap space to sign Howard.
• “No Q.O.” — A team declined to extend its own player a qualifying offer for the sake of maximizing its cap room. Qualifying offers are a one-year tender given to a player at the end of their rookie deal, providing the basic mechanism for restricted free agency.
• “Acquired”/”Signed” — A team either acquired a player via trade or signed a player outright via some opportunity related to Howard. In some cases, one of Howard’s suitors let go valued players for the sake of clearing cap space, opening up an opportunity for another team to sign those players. Similarly, decent rotation players were traded to maximize cap room, leaving opportunistic teams a chance to swoop in to acquire them.