Professional wave-maker and oft-MVP LeBron James stirred the pot when—in a February interview with Bleacher Report published this week—he said he would take a pay cut to play on the same team as his friends Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade.
Was LeBron being serious, or was he trolling basketball fans foaming at the mouth for more James news? Probably the latter! However, James DID take a pay cut in 2010 to team up with his good buddy Wade in Miami for some sunshine and two championship rings.
So if LeBron really did want to play with all his friends, could it happen? Well, kind of. Allow us to take you on a hypothetical journey...
First things first, let’s break down the contract situation for each of the four players:
James: One year remaining with a player option to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Unrestricted free agent in 2017.
Wade: Contract expires after this season. Unrestricted free agent in 2016.
Paul: Two years remaining with a player option to become an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Unrestricted free agent in 2018.
Anthony: Three years remaining with player option to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Unrestricted free agent in 2019.
As you can see, James and Wade are free to team up this summer, when James can join Wade in free agency. But let's dream and say all four wanted to join forces for next season. Here's how that would have to go:
The 2016 Plan
The NBA salary cap jumps up to nearly $90 million for next season, and it's maaaaybe possible for the dream to happen. The most plausible landing spot would be the Knicks, who will have the cap space and trade assets to pull off this admittedly ridiculous scenario. Here’s how it would go: As free agents, Wade and James sign with the Knicks on massive pay cuts—I'm talking maybe somewhere around $9 million a season. That leaves Paul, who would need to be acquired in a trade. The Clippers would need some good pieces in return, so the Knicks would have to ship out a package of something like Kristaps Porzingis, Arron Afflalo and Jose Calderon to acquire Paul.
And there you have it! The Knicks starting five would be Paul, Wade, James, Anthony and Robin Lopez. The team would still have Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn and Jerian Grant on the bench. Add a veteran or two and you have a dream team! Although in this scenario, Wade and James are making way less money.
Let’s jump ahead one year for a more equitable scenario.
The 2017 Plan
The cap is expected to reach over $100 million in 2017, which is pretty bonkers. The Clippers only have $71 million in committed salary for that summer, so they become our new landing spot. Here’s what has to happen: Dwayne Wade signs a one-year deal with Miami in 2016 to become a free agent next year. LeBron opts in and enters free agency with Wade next summer. Paul opts-out in 2017 but his cap hold remains on L.A.’s books. James and Wade sign with Los Angeles as free agents, maybe around $12 million per year. The Clippers trade a DeAndre Jordan-based package to the Knicks for Carmelo. Paul re-signs for lower than his scheduled $24 million.
In that scenario, three of the four take pay cuts, and L.A. may even have a little room to add some other assets to the team. The starting five would be Paul, Wade, James, Anthony and Blake Griffin, which at the very least would destroy teams in 2K. Paul Pierce would still be under contract, and in our dream-world, will even be able to contribute at his advanced age.
And there you have it! It’s that simple! All we need for the dream team to happen is for professional basketball players at a constant risk of injury to sacrifice millions of dollars, franchises to make trades that won’t really help them, and for LeBron, Wade, Paul and Anthony to be willing to play with the cheapest basketball players possible.
And if all these things actually do happen, well, you heard it here first.