Not only will the 2014 NBA Draft be an historic one (see ’13 Mock Draft for the details), but the off-season’s other big story arc – free agency – looks to be just as, if not more, promising. Here’s a quick list of potential free agents in the summer of 2014 (next offseason):
Now, before you get excited and start picking five guys from the list you would like your team to sign and begin a dynasty with, remember that most of those guys will get re-singed/extended. But even if say, 1/3 of them remain viable, open-market free agents, we as NBA fans will be in for a treat.
The purpose of this post is to make a modest proposal. And instead of eating his children, I propose Lebron James pulls a Steve Jobs. That’s right – eliminate his salary. The infamous, iconic, computer/idea guru made $1 as an annual salary (making plenty of cash off shares in the company, for those of you not familiar with the story). Because of NBA rules, Lebron can’t go that low, but he could accept the veterans minimum and make about $1.5 million a year. And the best part is: that wouldn’t even count against the cap!!
Is it crazy? Yea. Dumb? Probably. Would it also be perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen in sports? Debatable, but definitely in the conversation. Here’s why he does it:
He doesn’t need the money.
Just like Jobs, James is doing all right financially. He was signed to a large rookie contract before the rookie scale, he signed a mega extension with the Cavs after that, and even though he took “less” money to sign with the Heat, he still rakes in about $19 mil a year after incentives. Anybody could live off that.
And that’s before you even mention his endorsement deals. Remember when a thin (well comparatively thin) high-school Lebron inked that $90 million deal with Nike? Yea, not only is that a lot of money, but just like his player contracts, that was also extended. He also is signed with Coca-Cola (Sprite) and McDonalds, as well owning a share of the Liverpool FC. He’s got money, is what I’m trying to say.
Now for those of you who say “Drew, sure he’s rich, but leaving a max deal, or even lesser deal on the table could mean losing anywhere from $18-25 million PER YEAR! Sure he wants to win, but that’s a hefty price for a championship.”
For starters, excellent point hypothetical adversary. However, by simply pointing out rings (at least the kind Lebron seeks) can’t be bought, you’re point becomes pointless. And yes that’s a lot of money to leave on the table, which is why it would be one of the greatest things in sports history etc.
Besides being rich beyond my/our/almost everybody’s wildest dreams, Lebron should do it for his legacy. I have always been a Lebron fan because I love his talent. When the decision came and went, suddenly Lebron haters who had been lurking in the shadows, complaining about his lack of rings and “clutchness”, finally had something to truly villianize him with. Whether or not it was warranted, the hate built. The “not one, not two, etc.” video fueled it, and an admittedly awful choking in the Finals against the Mavs cemented it.
Of course, Lebron turned himself into the best baller since Jordan, won a title, won a gold medal, won (another [few]) MVP’s and remained relatively humble the entire time. The haters still credit the Heatles for winning the ship (“Jordan never would have left Chicago!” they chant, forgetting he threatened to bolt if they didn’t help him out; enter Scottie Pippen). But what are you gonna do, haters gon hate.
Signing for the minimum wouldn’t make everybody like him, that’s impossible when you’re that famous and successful. But it would make people view him in a different way. He can never be Jordan, that’s just unfair – different eras, positions, yada yada. But he could do something, by basically playing for free, that not even the great winner Michael Jordan ever did. He would go down as completely unselfish – taking no money, while allowing his teammates to cash in, all for the sake of winning.
So there are the reasons he does it: already rich and individualizing his legacy. Here’s what it might look like:
He announces this is his plan and basically every NBA team puts together a proposal. They tell him what players they have under contract and who they are willing to sign to pair with him (remember the class is chalk-full of talented vets). Lebron looks, for a moment like an egotistical maniac, basically controlling the direction of every team in the entire league. However, about a week or two in he adds his caveat: he wants whatever salary he’s worth/would have been paid, to be given to a charity of the owners/teams/fan bases choice. Another Armageddon like craziness ensues and the league tries to determine if this is legal.
And that’s it. He picks a team that will also sign 3-4 of the guys on the list. If he picks a relatively bad team, they will add a potential superstar in the loaded class of ’14, and LeaguePass subscriptions will rise by approximately 1 million percent.
Here’s my hope. He goes down the road to Orlando. The charity of choice is expanded to cover 100 different ones each receiving about $1 million, some in Orlando, some nationwide, quite a few in Akron/Cleveland. They trot out this lineup every night: Marcus Smart – Iguodala – Pierce – James – Nikola Vucevic. Not historically amazing, but I didn’t mention the bench. A second line of Kyle Lowry – Aaron Afflalo – Andrew Wiggins (their top pick from 14) – Dirk – Pau. Not only is that amazing, it’s extremely possible if James only made $1mil and the vets (Pau, Dirk, Pierce) also took cuts, which they would have to do anyways.
And here’s the thing, even though all of this is possible and none of it will happen, Kobe could do it too.
 This list includes all types of FA’s as well as players who may or may not opt-out of contracts with player options, and guys who may be cut by GM’s using a team option, or shedding a non-guaranteed contract. Basically there’s like a million ways to leave a team/get rid of a guy in the NBA.
Particularly those coming off rookie contracts (Irving, Rubio, Cousins, etc..) as the NBA’s new CBA lets their current team give them more money AND an extra year to stay.
 What up Liberal Arts majors!
 Although, to get hypothetically technical here, if this really were to happen, I’m sure the team would just pay him the 1.5 mil and keep it against the cap to save their exception for a different veteran or minimally priced player.
 “…picked a peck of pickled peppers…”
 I apologize for this bullish footnote in advance. Lebron was constantly under-manned in Cleveland (when Mo Williams is your best supporting player, you’re not winning titles) and when he did reach the finals put up some of the gaudiest stats in recent memory during the playoff run. As for the Decision? It wasn’t his idea, his handlers (whatever those are), agent, and ESPN put him up to it, almost all of the money from it went to charity, and all of those Lebron haters were watching it along with the rest of us.
 That drama playing out alone is enough for me to want this to happen.
 I have no idea.
 Although it would really never happen, Kobe could replace AI in that starting lineup…