LeBron James doesn't want to take a discount to return to the Miami Heat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. James will be seeking a maximum contract, or something close to it, after opting out of his deal with Miami earlier this week. The biggest contract James could sign is five years, $130 million.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both reportedly made the decision to opt out of their contracts on Saturday, as well. It leaves the Heat with about $55 million in cap space to rework the roster. The Heat have already made one move this offseason to appease James by acquiring UConn point guard Shabazz Napier in the draft. Changes to the roster are likely just getting started.
So, do we really think James won't sign for less than the max in Miami?
Big Decisions in Miami
Why this makes sense
If anyone has earned his money, it's James. With two championships and four MVP trophies, he remains the best player in the world at age 29. James took a slight paycut to sign with the Heat in 2010. He was only the ninth highest-paid player in the NBA last season, making the same salary as Bosh and just a bit more than Wade.
Kobe Bryant didn't give the Lakers a discount in signing a two-year, $48.5 million deal in November. James could want a similarly huge pay day. The Heat would have no choice but to give it to him if that's what he demands. This could be the last massive long-term contract of James' career.
NBA Free Agency
NBA Free Agency
Why this doesn't make sense
James saw first-hand how beneficial taking a pay cut can be in the NBA Finals. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili each gave the Spurs a discount on their most recent contracts so San Antonio could avoid the luxury tax and surround them with a strong support cast.
At this stage of his career, James likely values winning over money. Besides, there are other ways for him to get paid. Most recently, James cashed out $30 million in equity from the sale of Beats By Dre to Apple. LeBron reportedly owned a small stake in the company.
James deserves every penny, but taking max money from Miami has some notable disadvantages. Obviously, it would limit the Heat's ability to add better players around him thanks to the league's salary cap. It would also lock James into a long-term deal that he might not want to be a part of three or four years from now.
As the best player in the world, James knows his team will be in the hunt for the NBA title every year if he's surrounded by quality teammates. He has other avenues of making money. While LeBron is unquestionably worth a max contract, it might be in his best interest to play on a slightly smaller deal.