For LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, Opting out Was a Financial No-Brainer

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2014

Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) is shown with New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) before their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, March 3, 2013.  (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

On Monday, Carmelo Anthony officially informed the New York Knicks of his decision to opt out of the final year of his contract.

On Tuesday, LeBron James' agent, Rich Paul, confirmed to The Associated Press, via Yahoo Sports, that James has also decided to opt out of the final two years of his six-year deal with the Miami Heat.  

Both players will become unrestricted free agents and are eligible to receive the maximum free-agent contracts allowed by the league.

These would be max deals of five years and $129 million with their current organizations or four-year deals with just under $96 million should they decide to sign with another team.

While opting out of the final years of their current contracts does not by any means guarantee that Anthony will leave New York or James will leave Miami, fans in each city seem to be in an uproar about how these "selfish" players want to be paid instead of keeping their current deals or even taking pay cuts in order to give their teams the best chance at winning NBA titles.

My question for those fans would besince when has professional sports become some sort of charity organization benefiting only the fans?  

In case you hadn't heard, James and Anthony are professional athletes. And the very definition of a professional athlete is someone who gets paid to play a sport and entertain fans.

NBA players such as James and Anthony have a window of about 15 years to earn enough money to support themselves and their families for the rest of their lives.

Would any of you leave tens of millions of dollars on the table just to appease your hometown fans and maybe capture another NBA title for your organization?

My best guess is that many of you reading this article would actually answer yes to that question.

But your decision would be primarily based on two key factors: (1) Your emotion as a fan would have taken hold because settling for less money to win an NBA title is what you want these players to do, so you would like to think that if placed in a similar situation, you would do what is best for the team, and (2) we are talking about sums of money that are simply incomprehensible to the average fan.    

So, let's view this decision in a manner that the average fan can more easily relate to.  

Let's say that you are 60 years old and earning $90,000 at your company, and you are faced with two options for the next five years: (1) Take a pay cut and earn $65,000 for the next five years so that your organization might be able to perform a bit better and maybe even become an industry leader, or (2) opt out of your current contract with your company and guarantee yourself a salary of $150,000 for the next five years before you retire.

This is essentially a non-decision for any sane individual.

One would have to be nothing short of a fool to accept a pay cut for the next five years before retiring rather than to accept a substantial pay raise that would guarantee financial security for the next five years and beyond.

What fans must also realize is that playing in the NBA is nothing like your average desk job. There is the real threat of significant injury each time players such as Anthony and James step onto the court.

So, let's for arguments sake say that James exercised his option for the final year of his current contract with Miami and suffered a career-ending knee injury next season. James would still receive the $20.59 that he is guaranteed for the 2014-15 season, but that would be it.

Had James opted out of his deal and signed a max contract for either $129 million with the Miami Heat or $96 million with another organization, he would still be guaranteed the remainder of that money when considering that contracts for virtually all NBA players of James' caliber are fully guaranteed.  

That is a difference of between $75.41 million and $108.41 million that James would have left on the table if he had decided to exercise his option and then suffered some kind of career-ending injury next season.  

James will turn 30 during the 2014-15 NBA season while Anthony will turn 31. Practically every study ever done on the subject of age and athletic performance shows that James and Anthony are already beyond the point where most NBA players begin to decline.

So, this is essentially the last chance for both of these players to demand huge sums money that will be guaranteed for the remainder of their careers.

As fans, we often view professional sports in a selfish manner. We want what is best for our team because when our team performs well, it is more exciting and more entertaining for us. We don't particularly care about the financial well-being of those out on the court entertaining us.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

If Anthony had exercised his current option and injured himself next season, all Knicks fans would care about is that Anthony is no longer out on the court entertaining them and giving their team the best chance to win.

The thought that Anthony would have potentially left more than $100 million on the table as a result of exercising his option and then suffering an injury would never even cross the minds of most Knicks fans. It would simply be a case or wham, bam, bring in the next man to entertain us.

But if we for just a moment took a step back from what it is we personally desire and viewed what was best for athletes such as James and Anthony, it would be easy to see that opting out of the final years of their contracts was a financial no-brainer and a decision that any one of us would have made if placed in a similar situation.  

This is something that all fans should consider before berating players such as James and Anthony as just two more "selfish" athletes who are looking out for nothing more than their own personal interests.

Because as fans, that is exactly what we are doing when we plead with players such as James and Anthony to take pay cuts or risk their own financial futures in order continue entertaining us.