Kobe Bryant might never have been a Laker, as the trade that sent Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for Bryant was at least partially motivated by a desire to clear the cap space L.A. needed to make its $120 million offer to Shaq.
Perhaps most consequentially, the very rules governing free agency might never have become what they are. During a three-year window between lockouts in 1995 and 1998, restricted free agency disappeared.
As a result, the Magic couldn't match the Lakers' offer to O'Neal. Had his free agency come before 1996 or after 1998, Orlando would have retained matching rights (and, ultimately, total control) over its four-year veteran center.
The Shaq-to-L.A. fallout is overwhelming, affecting the formation and dissolution of dynasties, the careers of several other superstars and the rules controlling the league.
It'll be a while before we see another signing with an impact like that.
It's not unreasonable to trace virtually every aspect of modern offense to those Nash-led Phoenix teams. Everything from the prevalence of the pick-and-roll, to floor-spacing bigs, to the league-wide obsession with three-point shooting ties back to those mid-aughts Suns.
Nash is one of three players in NBA history to hit 42 percent of his threes on at least 3,500 career attempts, and he's the only player to ever display that kind of deadly accuracy as an on-ball player also tasked with running the offense. There have been five seasons in which a player made at least 100 threes at a 40 percent clip while also averaging 10 assists.
Without him paving the way for playmaking pick-and-roll point guards who also punished defenses from deep, do we see the proliferation of that player type today? Is Stephen Curry the same force? Is Damian Lillard?
"The Decision" made him a villain in 2010, when he took his talents to South Beach and signed with the Miami Heat.
Though the Boston Celtics (who added Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to a core that already included Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce in 2007) might be Patient Zero in the modern superteam epidemic*, the trio James formed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh spread the contagion like never before.
Cut to 2014, and James upended the league again by returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers team he'd left four years earlier. Call it a free-agency full circle. Cleveland fans re-embraced James like he'd never left, driving their welcome wagons over the ashes of the jerseys they'd burned four years prior.
That homecoming added four more consecutive Finals trips to the four James made with Miami, effectively creating a decade in which the road to a ring went through one man.
And then, in 2018, James dominated the news cycle again by signing with the Lakers. His first year with the team was a disaster, but now that Anthony Davis is in the fold, there's every chance James returns to his familiar status as the most prominent figure in the championship conversation.
Any time a free-agent signing creates what might go down as the greatest team ever assembled, it's a big deal.
And that's before wondering whether James might have a few more championships if KD hadn't turned the Warriors into a juggernaut, or if James Harden might have a ring, or (in a hypothetically alternate past in which he doesn't come down on Zaza Pachulia's foot) Kawhi Leonard would have added another banner to the Spurs' dynasty.
Maybe if Durant hadn't leveled up the Warriors, Stephen Curry would have a third or fourth MVP. Maybe the original Golden State cast would have found a way to win just as big, cementing its legend without becoming the team so many rooted against toward the end.
It's hard to imagine we'll see another rich-get-richer situation like this again. It took a perfect storm for the Warriors to add Durant, with lucky breaks and brilliant management combining to allow such an anomaly.