The benefits of guarding LeBron

Kawhi Leonard's effective defense on LeBron James in the NBA Finals has further boosted his value. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Superstars are the lifeblood of the NBA. The sport has been built on the personalities of its elite performers, and their success and popularity often drives the success and popularity of the league.

The attention they bring to the game and to their teams often brings with it residual benefits to those who surround them. It's why casual basketball fans recognize names like Steve Kerr or Derek Fisher, players who weren't stars in their own right, but who benefited by having their exploits illuminated on the grand stage by virtue of their association with the superstars they played with.

The great superstars elevate the play of their teammates, making them better players capable of performing at levels higher than their individual talents would probably dictate otherwise. When combined with the added attention of playing alongside a superstar, this often results in tangible, financial benefits; it's like being able to eat leftovers off the superstars' gourmet feast. When I worked with the Phoenix Suns, we used to joke that Steve Nash ought to receive a cut of his teammates' new contracts, as he helped them inflate their market values. For example, Steven Hunter went from earning the veteran's minimum to a five-year, $16.5 million contract coming off a season in which he played less than 14 minutes per game with Nash.

However, there is another unlikely beneficiary of experiencing the performance inflation and added attention from being associated with a superstar: the opponent. Players who raise their level of play while matched up with superstars during the playoffs can earn themselves larger contracts by elevating their profiles in the views of the public, the media and (most importantly) the decision-makers who hand out the contracts.

There is no greater superstar in the league than LeBron James, and he unquestionably makes his teammates better players. But here are three opponents who have had strong showings guarding "The King" during the 2013 playoffs and stand to benefit immensely:


Jimmy Butler | Chicago Bulls

Eligible for extension: Summer 2014
2012-13 salary: $1.1 million
Expected Average Annual Value (AAV) of extension: $6.5 million/year