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Why LeBron James will owe the Lakers money instead of having his pay cut today

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Lakers star LeBron James is one of six NBA players that won’t be taking a paycut on Friday, but that doesn’t mean he gets to keep the money.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Friday is the first day that the majority of players on the Los Angeles Lakers (and most other NBA players) will see their pay get cut as a result of the coronavirus pandemic leading to the season shutting down.

The National Basketball Players Association and the NBA came to an agreement to withhold a percentage of players’ salaries from their paychecks and keep it in escrow in case the season doesn’t resume and while the league waits to see exactly how much money it has lost already.

However, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN, Lakers star LeBron James will not be among those players. Marks reports that six of the 10 highest-paid players in the league — James, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant and Paul George — have already been given their full salary for the season, and as a result will owe their teams money out of their next year’s salary:

Their salary reductions will come out of their advances for the 2020-21 season on Oct. 1 or beginning with their Nov. 15 paychecks. Each player will essentially have an IOU per paycheck to his team ranging from $390,000 (James) to $420,000 (Curry) each time there is a scheduled 25% pay reduction. That amount will increase if games are eventually canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

If the league cancels the remainder of the regular season and jumps right into the playoffs, players likely will see the 25% paycheck reduction increase as high as 40%. If the league cancels the entire season, including the postseason, players are projected to lose more than $1 billion in total salary.

Now, in case this wasn’t obvious, this isn’t a Joe Exotic vs. Carole Baskin situation for James. This is more of a procedural move than anything, and $390,000 is a very small percentage of the $41 million he’s slated to earn from his playing contract alone next year, not to mention from his extensive portfolio of endorsement deals — including a lifetime deal with Nike worth at least $1 billion — and Space Jam money on the way next summer. He’s going to be fine, and will financially recover from this.

Still, Marks’ second graf here highlights the motivation for some players — even ones on losing teams — to come back for whatever plan the NBA ultimately puts into place. The more money the league loses, the more money these players not going to get back as part of this escrow deal their union made with the league (not to mention the affects that may ultimately have on next year’s cap). As the Lakers and other teams around the league begin to re-open their practice facilities, that money is a motivating factor towards a return that is worth paying attention to as we see what the league will ultimately do.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.