In the summer of 2014, LeBron James can and likely will opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat.
And that has led to a raft of preparations and speculation about what’s next — the Lakers have cleared out enough cap space to offer a max deal that summer (even if they sign Dwight Howard this summer), there is speculation he will want to return to Cleveland to pair with Kyrie Irving, and the list goes on and on.
My bet would be on him turning around and inking a new five-year deal with the Miami Heat — I don’t think he goes anywhere. But that’s not much fun to speculate about.
Wherever he lands, LeBron doesn’t expect to get paid his full value. And he said he’d make sacrifices for the team, he told ESPN’s Bryan Windhorst (go read all his comments).
“I have not had a full max deal yet in my career — that’s a story untold,” James said.
“I don’t get (the credit) for it. That doesn’t matter to me; playing the game is what matters to me. Financially, I’ll sacrifice for the team. It shows for some of the top guys, it isn’t all about money. That’s the genuine side of this, it’s about winning. I understand that.”
Already this year we have seen Oklahoma City and Memphis trade away top players — James Harden and Rudy Gay — because smaller market teams just can’t spend like that.
Even in bigger markets elite guys are going to have to take less than the NBA maximum salary — and that is already well less than they could earn on a true open market. Kobe Bryant will make nearly $30 million next year but what he means to the Lakers in terms of ticket sales, sponsorship deals, television deals and ratings dwarfs that (I’ve heard estimates of triple his salary).
LeBron likely would take less to stay in Miami (as he did with his last contract) and if he moves anywhere he can only be offered less than a max deal fro Miami. Not that any of this really fazes LeBron — he made around $40 million in endorsements last year, according to Forbes Magazine. Winning and stature frankly does more for his earning potential than what he can make off his regular contract.
Under the new and more punishing tax levels of the Collective Bargaining Agreement — the full force of which kick in next year — it’s going to be more expensive for teams that want to collect multiple superstars. The hope of small and medium market owners is this will flatten out the talent pool in the NBA as big-market owners can’t just decide they will pay the tax and hoard talent.
Except, I could swear I remember the owners of the Lakers and Nets doing exactly that this past summer. Even with the new tax looming.
Top players that want to win will find a way to team up — and that’s not bad for the league. The Celtics of the 1960s were a super team. The Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s were super teams. It continues on through Shaq and Kobe to Miami — NBA fans have shown with their eyeballs and dollars that they will watch these teams more than they have supported parity.
The simple fact is that wherever LeBron James plays other players will want to be. We can debate how much longer Dwyane Wade can play at an elite level and if LeBron wants to play with someone other than Chris Bosh, but the fact remains that Miami can lure plenty of talent while LeBron is there. And owner Micky Arison is smart enough to offer LeBron whatever he wants to stay.
It’s just that LeBron might not take it all.