- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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How rich is LeBron James? Put it this way: When God needs some walking-around money, he borrows it from LBJ.
Dwyane Wade isn't exactly slumming, himself. Some people donate to a church; Wade bought a church for his minister mom.
And although Chris Bosh isn't in the same endorsement orbit as King James and D-Wade, he's still pushing $60 million in career salary earnings. So it's not as if Bosh is ordering the 89-cent, five-layer burrito from Denise.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh have money, lots of it. What they don't have is an NBA jewelry collection. Of their combined 30 fingers, only one has actually had an NBA championship ring wrapped around it.
Wade won his title in 2006, but the Miami Heat haven't sniffed a playoff-series win since then. James' Cleveland Cavaliers reached the Finals in 2007 -- and got swept. Bosh's Toronto Raptors have been to the postseason twice but haven't made it out of the first round.
All that could change if James, Wade and Bosh decide to put dynasties over dollars, basketball legacies over bank accounts. They just need a dotted line and some stones as big as the ones in Olympic curling.
As ridiculous as it sounds, there exists a scenario in which these three guys could play on the same team and win championships happily ever after starting next season. For once, someone could say, "It's not about the money," and actually mean it.
As you probably noticed, the recent NBA trade deadline isn't just about trading players. It's usually about trading contracts, preferably the expiring kind. It's white-flag economics, where teams essentially admit Steven Seagal has a better chance of winning an Oscar than they do of competing for a championship. So they start dumping salaries into the league's Port-o-Potty.
Four teams did a lot of flushing in recent weeks: the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Clippers. (What? Donald Sterling? Go cheap?) And three other franchises also can stretch their legs when it comes to salary-cap space: the Heat, New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Without going all capology on you, it looks as though next season's projected salary cap will be between $50.4 million and $53.6 million. Now compare that to the financial wiggle room those seven teams have in 2010-11.
Right now, the Knicks are on the hook for only $18.6 million in contracts next season. The Nets are committed to just $26.6 million worth of deals, while the Heat are at $30.7 million, the Bulls at $31.9 million, the Clippers at $33.5 million, the Kings at $33.9 million and the T-Wolves at $35.2 million.
The numbers could change by July, but at least this gives you an idea of who has the most money to make a run at one of the great unrestricted free-agent classes in NBA history.
From a pure salary standpoint, there's no reason James, Wade and Bosh should bolt. If they max out with their teams, they'll get six-year deals with 10.5 percent annual salary increases. If they move, they'll get only five-year deals at a lower annual increase rate of 8 percent. LeBron could leave $30 million on the table if he ditches the Cavs.
I'd ditch them. If you're really serious about creating a brand and a basketball legacy, do something that's never been done before. Don't max out; min out.
Depending on the final salary-cap numbers, the Knicks could have about $33 million to spend on free agents in the summer. Under normal circumstances, that's enough to offer, say, James a max deal and then fill in the roster holes with whatever is left over.
But if James, Wade and Bosh truly want to make history, they could do the unthinkable and split the Knicks' $33 million three ways. It would cost them salary money, but can you imagine how much they'd make on the back end if they started reeling in NBA titles? In New York?
Whatever they'd lose on their paycheck stubs, they'd make up in endorsements. And it's not as if they're filing simple federal tax returns these days. According to a 2009 Forbes analysis, LeBron earned about $42.4 million in salary and endorsements -- more than Britney Spears, Jay-Z or Tom Cruise and almost as much as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie combined.
Wade was No. 12 on Sports Illustrated's 2009 Fortunate 50, earning $26.4 million in salary and endorsements. Bosh didn't make the top 50, but he is making $15.7 million from the Raptors this season.
Anyway, they all can afford to do something daring. Just think: James, Wade and Bosh at Madison Square Garden.
Seriously, who would touch them? Wade at guard. LeBron at point forward. Bosh in the post or on the wing. Three good guys who could handle the New York media. Three seven-year veterans who understand you get only so many chances to hug the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Three singular players who know careers are defined by championships, not just checkbooks.
Dream Team Jr. could get by on about $11 million each, couldn't it? Yeah, they'd take a cut in pay, but they'd get a raise in title runs.
Don't say no just yet, fellas. And whatever you do, don't tell your agents. (They'll melt like the gestapo guy in "Raiders of the Lost Ark.")
Instead, close your eyes and think about ticker-tape parades, victory cigars and championship rings the size of clementines. Now try to put a price tag on it.
I'll save you the trouble. You can't.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.
OK, so it's a fantasy. But there is a way to keep LeBron smiling forever. All it takes is sacrifice and a little help from friends like D-Wade and Chris Bosh.