INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James wants to win as many championships as he can. When it comes to the titles dictated by money, he’s not that interested.
The Miami Heat star says he’s not worried about being the NBA’s highest-paid player.
“It doesn’t matter to me being the highest-paid player in the league,” James said. “I think my value shows on the floor.”
He added: “If this was baseball, it (the salary) would be up, I mean way up there.”
James spoke following the team’s afternoon shootaround in Indianapolis leading to Friday night’s Heat-Pacers game.
Initially, the questions were about whether the league’s collective bargaining agreement would allow other teams to build the same way Miami did, by signing three big-name players.
James was the top prize on the free-agent market in 2010 but acknowledged he took less money to play with Miami and pursue NBA championships with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
James and Bosh each reportedly signed six-year deals worth $110 million. Wade’s deal was for six years and $107 million. Each deal was under the NBA’s maximum contract.
The Heat won the title last season, and all three Miami stars can opt out of their contracts next year. There has been speculation that the Cavaliers, James’ former team, might be interested in signing him, as would the Los Angeles Lakers.
But under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, which begins to be implemented in earnest next season, teams will be penalized more harshly for exceeding the salary cap than they were in the past, and repeat offenders will have it even worse.
It’s already making an impact.
The new economic structure has already led to some significant personnel decisions. Oklahoma City decided to break up a core that had taken the Thunder to the NBA Finals the previous summer when they chose to ship James Harden to Houston just before the season rather than sign him to a contract extension that would have subjected the team to the more punitive luxury tax.
In the past two weeks the Memphis Grizzlies, who were considered to be legitimate challengers to the Thunder in the West, traded valuable bench player Marreese Speights and two other players to Cleveland for Jon Leuer in a salary dump, then sent leading scorer Rudy Gay, who is making $16.5 million this season with $37 million more over the next two years, to Toronto.
The move helped get the Grizzlies under the cap for next season, but left coach Lionel Hollins wondering if they still had enough to compete in the powerful Western Conference.
“When you have champagne taste, you can’t be on a beer budget,” Hollins said, before going on to say he understands the challenges new Memphis owner Robert Pera faces in one of the NBA’s smaller markets.
So when James was asked whether it was right that the league’s reigning MVP was not its highest-paid player, he just smiled. He later said money will not dictate his plans.
“I’ve not had a max contract yet, it’s a story that’s been untold,” he said. “I don’t get (credit) for it. But that doesn’t matter to me. Playing the game matters to me.”
Few players, even those earning more money, have a stronger resume than James.
He was the youngest player in league history to be chosen the NBA’s rookie of the year, the youngest to be the All-Star Game MVP and in January became the youngest player to top 20,000 points.
At 28, James is nowhere close to slowing down, either.
Last year, James won his third MVP award, his first NBA title, was a unanimous choice as NBA Finals MVP and earned his second Olympic gold medal.
So the money issue seems to pale in comparison, especially given that James has been able to supplement his income off the court.
“It’s not all about money. It’s about winning. I know that and I don’t mind,” James said. “It doesn’t bother me because I’m OK, I’m financially stable and my family is OK.”
The small markets may not be the only ones that have to swallow hard and watch some big stars walk away. The new deal was designed in part to level the playing field and try to discourage teams in big markets or glitzy locales from hoarding all the talent.
Even the mighty Lakers have expressed concerns about their bloated payroll going forward. That means the era of the super team could be coming to an end, unless players such as James decide to take less money to make it easier on a front office to lure more prime talent.
Of course, it still may not matter for several deep-pocketed owners, including Brooklyn’s Mikhail Prokhorov and New York’s James Dolan.
The Buss family in Los Angeles may also find the allure of championship chasing hard to resist and use revenues from a mammoth new television deal to help offset the major tax penalties they could incur.
“We watched the film this morning and it was eye-opening,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, comparing the game to Sunday’s Super Bowl. “We know what it’s all about. We have to have our knee pads on and our mouth guards in.”