This summer, while LeBron James was going about his decision and Decision, there was an interesting question floating around:
What would James be worth on an open market?
The NBA, with its max salaries, limits what guys like LeBron or Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant might make in a truly free market. Their value goes beyond the court — those are the guys that drive jersey sales, fill arenas home and away, bring in sponsors and increase television contracts. Some agents have called for a truly open market — what you’d end up with is stars who make huge money, a very small middle class and a lot of guys closer to the league minimum. (It is the high price of mediocrity that really hits NBA teams pocket books.)
So what would LeBron have been worth? Author and statistician Dave Berri — working with Forbes — estimated $46.5 million. Which means last season he was the most underpaid player in the NBA. (Remember, this is based on his last season in Cleveland.)
Forbes used Berry’s Wins Produced stat to do their calculations. Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of that stat, but for this purpose it’s as useful as anything else, and saying LeBron was underpaid on the open market is a no brainer.
I’m good with the rest of the list, too. Second was Durant, who was still in his rookie contract and made just $4.8 million but led the league in scoring. Third was Rajon Rondo, a guy also in a rookie deal that the Celtics wisely found a way to extend at a reasonable price for the next few seasons.
After that the top 10 rounds out with Jason Kidd, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, Dwight Howard, David Lee, Lamar Odom and Al Horford (who got paid this year but is also having a career year).