You'll never guess which NBA star the Greek team Olympiakos of Athens may be targeting next.
Here's the buzz I heard Friday: Olympiakos is considering a run at LeBron James when he becomes a free agent in 2010.
This talk was beginning to make its way through the NBA on Friday. I heard it from a reliable league source, who told me that it emanates from Olympiakos.
At first glance it is ludicrous to imagine that the NBA's next big star would move overseas as he's trying to win championships and replace Michael Jordan as a household name globally. But look at it this way: Neither the Euroleague nor Greek league impose any kind of salary cap on its teams, which means there would be no ceiling on an offer that the billionaire ownership of Olympiakos could make to James.
As a free agent in 2010, his new contract in the NBA would start at less than $20 million annually.
What if Olympiakos were to offer him $40 million per year? Or $50 million? Who knows how much the Greeks would be willing to pay? The point is that the limitation on his salary is entirely up to them.
Last month Olympiakos signed Josh Childress, a sixth man of the Atlanta Hawks, to a three-year contract worth $20 million "net'' (meaning that most of his taxes and living expenses are paid by the club in addition to his salary) that exceeded his value in the NBA. The Aggelopoulos brothers, the young billionaires who own Olympiakos, do not expect to earn revenues to cover the cost of that contract. They signed Childress simply in hope that he will help them win basketball games.
At the most expensive levels of European basketball, the club owners are obsessed with bringing glory to their club and their fans as well as to their city and country. Imagine the glory that the recruitment of James would bring to Olympiakos. At the very least, he would destroy their cross-town rival Panathinaikos: The value of that alone would be priceless to Olympiakos.
The owners of Olympiakos already lose millions annually on their player payroll. It may be worthwhile to them to lose $40 million or more in exchange for the grandeur of LeBron.
From James' point of view, playing overseas for a year could enhance his marketing status and turn him into more of a global star than he is now. He could build up his name in an entirely unprecedented way and then return home as a free agent to sign with the NBA team of his choosing.
I am not saying that any of this is going to happen. I can tell you, however, that this kind of speculation is going to generate a lot of talk throughout the basketball world -- and not just concerning Olympiakos, either. What's to stop the billionaire owners of CSKA Moscow or other elite Euroleague clubs from making a similar run at James?
The landscape of basketball may be changing, after all.