What is LeBron James' real value?

Merchandise sales also play a role. Although revenue from merchandise sold outside the arena and in official team stores is shared among the league's 30 teams, sources say the Heat have, far and away, the highest in-stadium revenue in the league. That could make LeBron worth an additional $500,000 a year or more through the sale of fan gear.

All this could have a significant effect on the team's value, though that's muted by the fact that Arison has never said he plans on selling the team and his son is in line to take it over. That means that any valuation of the team, boosted by LeBron, won't ever be realized.

But NBA execs don't think the rise of the Heat brand under LeBron can be discounted. Having him another three years could easily raise the brand value of the Heat by $50 million.

Our running tally on the worth of LeBron on a three-year deal hits $143.3 million.

The Heat's television deal isn't up for another three seasons, meaning a three-year deal for James won't guarantee he'll still be on the team then, but another three years of service would certainly help boost Miami's brand and fan base to the point where it will allow the Heat to see at least $3 million more a year on a minimum six-year deal. That's another $18 million.

So it seems like LeBron truly is a free agent. As in free money for Miami if he returns to play for the team. That's three years of LeBron being worth $161.3 million, nearly $100 million more than what the Heat would have to pay him over three seasons.

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