The NBA Is More Than Just Basketball. It’s A Business
LeBron James made it official recently when he opted out of his two-year deal he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He now joins teammates Kevin Love and JR Smith on the free agent market. But while some are wondering where Love and Smith will land, there has been not as much talked about when it comes to LeBron James. When the best player in the current NBA hits the open market, there are many teams that take notice. Of course, when he left Cleveland the first time, he made The Decision and that landed him in Miami. But in this instance, there is something different going on. When he left the first time, he was seeking to win a title, something he had never done. In this instance, he is a two-time NBA champion and is the most experienced playoff performer on his team. And his experience is what carried them to the NBA Finals despite losing key parts like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. But the totally different dynamic in this instance is that it is a forgone conclusion that he will be staying in Cleveland but just under a new contract. And even though some Cleveland fans and other fans of the NBA are thinking he could bolt Cleveland again, they all must take a look at the landscape of the NBA and then realize the difference between playing basketball and the business of basketball.
Kevin Love, LeBron James and JR Smith are not the only ones that have opted out of their deals. Many across the NBA have opted out in search of new money. And in most instances, it would mean that they would be heading to new teams. For example, Dallas Mavericks guard Monta Ellis is expected to be on a different team after opting out of his deal. The relationship between Ellis and Dallas was reportedly strained as the season ended and it was evident that he would not be there. Monta is leaving $11 million on the table that he could have had next season in order to hit the open market. And it wasn’t like the Mavericks did not try to keep his services. At one point, they offered him a two-year, $24.8 million extension to stay in Dallas. More than likely Ellis will not get more than what he is being offered, but he is going to take a chance on what the market may hold for him. And Ellis, like many others, are taking this chance on gaining more money and more years from some team out there. It may not seem like a sound decision, but all it takes is one team to buy into what you and your agent are selling. And if that happens, the player wins the game of contract roulette. Ellis, along with guys like Thaddeus Young of the Brooklyn Nets, are banking on themselves and what they can get on the market. They may end up being wrong, but they at least went for what they wanted. And the thing that most fans fail to realize is their window is a short one and they have to make the money they have last over a lifetime.
In LeBron’s case, he has taken power over the Cleveland Cavaliers and that is a rare thing. In the NBA, players usually are the slaves to what the owners and the organizations want. And in most instances, the players get the short end of the stick, signing long-term deals that allows teams to throw any and everything out there with them while they are out on the court. When LeBron was first with the Cavaliers, he was playing with any and everyone on the court. The teams were successful during the regular season, but they just could not consistently get to the NBA Finals. He then left for Miami and a better situation for winning. But upon his return, it was evident that LeBron had the power over the organization. When he signed the two-year deal he did that had an opt-out after his first season back, he basically put pressure on the organization at that point. If all went bad, he could leave despite what the natives may have thought of him. But if it went well, he could still opt out to keep the pressure on the organization to make the improvements necessary to be competitive for a title. The opt out this offseason is also something that is the smart decision of a businessman. LeBron knows he is the best player in the NBA and he is also one of the most observant. He knows the cap is due to skyrocket in 2016 due to the huge television deal the NBA signed before last season. So instead of tying up his options like others have, he is patiently waiting until 2016 for his last big payday. At that point and time, he can make betwwen $30-40 million per season depending on the how much the salary cap rises. But until then, he opted out again to make sure and keep the pressure on the team and to also maximize the amount of money he can make. LeBron the businessman has figured out how to keep the organization accountable while making his money.
Many top players in the NBA may want to pay attention to the things that LeBron has done in Cleveland. Now there has been criticism due to his handling of his coach during the playoffs, but for the most part he has handled it like a smart businessman who knows he has the power. But there are others out there that are taking the calculated gamble to make more money. You may wonder what some of them are thinking, but who can blame them for making a run at more money that could potentially be out there for them. And even though the one year option some players opt out of may be better than the average per year a player signs for in this scenario, the player would end up with more years to make more guaranteed money. And that could end up being more valuable than the one year of big money. Gone are the days where basketball is just the game we see on the court. There is now a game going on off of it. We shall see this offseason who is playing checkers and who is playing chess.