Rumors have surfaced on Thursday morning that make it seem more likely that LeBron James will sign with New York after this season.
When LeBron becomes a free agent in the summer of 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be in the best position to re-sign him. This is because of the Larry Bird clause, which allows a team to go over the salary cap in order to sign their own free agent.
The New York Knicks will offer LeBron a max contract, but they will not be able to offer LeBron as much as the Cavaliers. So they got creative in the Big Apple and found a way to get around that blasted salary cap.
The rumor is that the Knicks will not only offer LeBron a max contract, but also his own cable channel. You see, the Knicks are owned by Cablevision, a cable TV company.
LeBron would receive income from the advertisers on his cable channel. According to NBA rules, the team would not be allowed to set up these endorsements/advertisers for LeBron; he would have to handle that himself. But I think we would all agree that LeBron has enough connections in the business world to make that happen.
Speculation is that the channel would show replays of Knicks games (whose rights are owned by Cablevision), as well as other programming about LeBron, the Knicks, and the NBA. Some have even speculated that Nike would want to get involved and create their own TV show.
The big question is whether the NBA would allow this. It seems to be completely within league rules. The cable channel would be seen as a peripheral benefit of playing in New York, similar to many other marketing benefits that come from playing in a particular city. The income would be viewed as non-basketball related revenue.
Certainly, one would expect that David Stern would fight against this. He wouldn't want to see an uneven playing field in chasing free agents; that's why the salary cap was created, to prevent such things from occurring.
But it's already an uneven playing field. It's much easier for Miami, New York, LA, etc. to attract free agents than Toronto, Milwaukee, and Minnesota. When you think about it, this tactic would only work for the top few superstars in the league. There's only one or two other guys that could pull off getting advertisers for their own cable channel.
Of course, LeBron will also have the talent of the team to consider. Cleveland has been a solid playoff team for years, while the Knicks have been the laughing stock of the league. But that would all change if LeBron switched sides. I mean, how far would the current Cleveland roster go without him?
This is a new and interesting twist in the LeBron-to-be-a-free agent saga. The general consensus has been that Cleveland is winning the race. Perhaps that is starting to change?