Thursday, July 16, 2009

If Lamar Odom Leaves, Lakers' Title Runs Fade Away

Why aren’t people sporting purple and gold apparel nervous and furious at the Los Angeles Lakers?

The Lakers are spending too much time speculating on if they’ll repeat their triumph next season, rather than focusing on retaining players who have had the most impact on their recent title.

If the Lakers expect to return as heavyweights and feel the gratifying elation of their 16th title in franchise history, or if Kobe Bryant plans on surmounting a tiebreaker to amass one ring atop Shaquille O’Neal, or if Phil Jackson presumably sustains a historical 11th title in his final season before taking off for a permanent vacation, the Lakers will have to retain Lamar Odom, the team’s second option whenever Kobe is not around to relieve occasional droughts.

Almost all in the land of movie stars, music stars, Capitol Records, and the Walk of Fame are nervous and, more than anything, surprised to learn that other teams are interested in the versatile forward.

In retrospect, Los Angeles might be experiencing the end of Lamar Odom wearing a Lakers uniform. He emerged as a vital superstar and celeb, putting his imprint on his first title and improvising as a precise aide to the Black Mamba.

So why are the multitudes in Los Angeles surprised Odom is listening to what other teams have to offer, and weighing options in the market? At the end, when the Lakers clinched a championship, Odom informed everyone that he wanted to remain with the Lakers, and desired to “stay home.”

At the moment, he’s an unrestricted free-agent, and now a frustrated free-agent whose exodus could weaken the Lakers frontcourt and turn their bench into a disaster if he and the Lakers can’t compromise on an agreement soon.

Shouldn’t he be their main priority after being such an integral piece to their title run? Shouldn’t he earn valuable profit after he was an essential nucleus to their jubilant celebration?

Shouldn’t they be more aggressive in trying to retain Odom, after he bolstered the team's vitality and promise? After he altered Kobe’s facial expressions, which progressed from that hideous scowl to a blissful smile as he hoisted the Most Valuable Player award and the Larry O’Brien trophy?

You would think the Lakers front office has enough sense to re-sign Odom, realizing they couldn't have won a championship without this forward who developed into a multi-dimensional player and avoided defensive lapses, especially when Andrew Bynum accumulated fouls and sat out countless minutes in foul trouble.

As Bynum continues to mellow and still hasn’t dominated as expected, injuries and lethargy have hindered incisiveness. The Lakers aren’t trying to keep a championship-caliber team intact. They are running players away as Jerry Buss fails to match enormous and superordinate deals for them.

As these two parties wrestle with ego, presuming stubbornness and avarice in the other, they can't find a way of accommodating each other's desires.

Of late, the narrow-minded boss, Buss, is ticked off and angry, which prompted him to pull out offers he already extended. No longer are the Lakers negotiating with Odom, and it has turned into a drama that can perhaps last the entire summer.

It is not unlike Kobe’s trade demands two years ago. For an entire summer, all we heard were insensitive remarks, criticism among teammates, and Bryant demanding to be traded off the Lakers.

Doesn’t this sequence sound a bit familiar? There might not be public announcements made from Odom’s mouth, but understand that there is conflict swirling around. As markets heat up in trying to obtain Odom, this situation is becoming increasingly dramatic for the Lakers.

When Buss wrathfully withdrew his contract offer six days ago, the Lakers started looking less like a championship-bound team and more like an average one. If the Lakers want to taste another season of resplendence, they can’t afford to lose a player of Odom's brilliant caliber. Odom was the team’s catalyst, the miracle worker, the sidekick, the defensive force, and champion of well-rounded play.

Don’t forget that he was a tremendous factor in the playoffs, having a solid run where he averaged 12.3 points, third best on the team in that category.

Was there anything else? Indeed.

Odom was committed to rebounding, and was considered the Lakers' most efficient and dedicated player in grabbing boards and blocking shots. During the playoffs, Odom collected a team second-best 9.1 rebounds, and was a crucial piece to trapping and defending the middle to contain Denver in the Western Conference Finals.

The last thing they can't afford to happen is losing Odom. Come to think of it, it would be heartbreaking to see him leave, after he has done so much in the community and for the Lakers, accomplishing something many players will never grasp.

I guess the Lakers have forgotten about all this. That certainly seemed to be the case on Tuesday when the team confirmed they had rescinded any and all offers already presented.

One of the teams interested in Odom is Portland, a young team that’s emerging into the limelight with explosive guard Brandon Roy, center Greg Oden, and forward LaMarcus Aldridge. It would be too bad if Portland signs Odom to an enormous deal, acquiring an experienced veteran to complement that young talent. You could only imagine the type of trouble they’ll pose, particularly since the Lakers never beat Portland at the Rose Garden.

Other teams are expressing interest and willing to scrape up money and invest in the savvy defensive and energetic force. Miami is willing to give Odom a five-year, $34-million deal, and of course it might take a trade to attain him. Rumor has it that Carlos Boozer is a target among teams, and perhaps, the Heat could possibly trade for him as well or instead.

Either way, Odom is seeking a long-term deal, at least five years. Logic tells us, since the Lakers dropped negotiations, another team will be more than delighted to pick up where they left off and grant Odom a long-term deal. Odom passed on every deal the Lakers presented and still expects a deal that will keep him locked up for at least half a decade.

This is why neither side could agree on the three-year, $30-million offer or the four-year, $36 million offer, which appear to be the best available deals on the table for Odom. It isn’t the money Odom is contemplating, it's the benefits for his future and family, which is why he's looking for more dollars and years.

The Lakers ownership has lots to deal with and lots of stress to cope with. GM Mitch Kupchak has to do everything he can to retain Odom, or else he’ll start getting vicious abuse from critics. It is understandable Kupchak has huge burdens and tremendous pressure in finding the correct deal to appease Odom. Earlier in the week, Bryant mentioned that he has established a sturdy relationship with Odom as well as his teammates.

It is bad enough that the Lakers lost Trevor Ariza, the team’s defensive force, to Houston. Now, other teams could outbid them and sign Odom, a player any fan at the beginning of the summer assumed would be returning. This prolonged negotiation can only serve to stir up chaos, causing turmoil that will only hurt the Lakers in the long run.