Monday, July 28, 2014

LeBron and the Leverage of Superstars

Breaking News: LeBron James signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This is the news that got all of the attention, but his actual contract deserves almost as much attention. LeBron signed a one-year deal with a player option for the second year. The reasoning behind only signing a two-year contract is that the TV deal will run out after that season, and the NBA is due to make A LOT more money. With the players having a 50/50 share of that revenue, the salary cap could be taking a big bump up which would mean that the max salary will get a significant bump. This makes total sense for LeBron, as it gives him the best chance to maximize his earnings.

But that player option for the second year is what fascinates me most. LeBron basically has ensured that he will hold the Cavaliers hostage over the next two years, because it makes sense for them to do everything in their power to bend to LeBron's demands.

LeBron wants Kevin Love, so the Cavaliers are likely to trade Wiggins, Bennett, and whatever else it takes in order to get Kevin Love. But it could extend far beyond that. If he doesn't want to play with Dion Waiters or Tristan Thompson, there is really nothing stopping the Cavs from trading them away in pursuit of someone like Thaddeus Young.

And are we sure that Kyrie Irving is safe? As much as I would love to have a scorching hot take, I'll put it at a medium burn, because he most likely is sticking around. But maybe Chris Paul gets unhappy in LA and wants out. Would it be ridiculous for LeBron to request having Chris Paul as his point guard? He's a better facilitator, and a far better defender. Yes, Kyrie is much better for the future, but LeBron's best years are right now, so I certainly wouldn't blame him for trying to bring in the best current talent to play alongside him.

LeBron is changing what it means to be an elite free agent. He not only gets to pick his destination, but by signing a short contract with a player option, he can choose his teammates to an extent as well. The owners wield most of the power in the NBA, but if elite players insist on player options, they can lock up security, while also being able to leave when it best suits them. You can say that LeBron is a once-in-a-generation talent, and that's true, but this option is probably available for at least the top 10 guys in the league. No team is going to tell Durant, Love, Westbrook, Davis, etc. that they don't want them if they insist on some player options in their max level deal. They will do what is necessary to get them on the team, and at that point, they will do what it takes to keep them happy and opting into the team's plan.

Everybody knows that LeBron is something special on the court, but it's off the court where LeBron's impact is truly changing the game.

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