By Vince Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Jul 31 2009 7:24AM
I guess Lamar Odom was right when he said "everything is a negotiation." At any rate, I'm just glad it worked out to each side's moderate liking, because this Lamar Odom situation was really distressing me. I guess you could say I'm somewhat of a sports Marxist, a pro-player guy and the Lakers' stop-n-go negotiations with Odom this past month were making me do what I typically never do. I almost always want these athletes to make as much dough as they can. If some owner wants to give Smush Parker a four-year/$80 million contract, that's fine with me. That's profoundly stupid, but, hey, it's not my money, ya dig?
But there are those few, sporadic, seldom times when I begrudge a player his cash and back the team...like, uh, when it's my team, which just so happens to be the Los Angeles Lakers. And throughout this whole saga, I never thought the Lakers were acting irrationally and I think Odom knew this. That's why he didn't flee in a huff.
By now we know the story. Going into free agency, Odom wanted a a five-year deal at $40-$50 million. The Lakers basically said, "Five years? Are you loco?" They reportedly gave him two options: three years at $30 million or four years at $36 million, with only three years guaranteed. Odom supposedly took too long to respond, which made Jerry Buss mad, so he lowered the offer to three years at $27 million.
Then Odom started talking to other teams -- Portland, Dallas, Miami. Then Buss went all George Steinbrenner and pulled the offer a few weeks ago. What they settled on makes sense. Four years at $33 million with three years and $27 million guaranteed and a team option for a fourth year. That represents a good 'ol compromise and it represents smarts on the Lakers' part. We tend not to talk about it a lot, but general manager Mitch Kupchak is growing into a quite a prescient, staid and discerning exec.
I never want to mess with a player's money, but, if I were Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak, there's no way I would have paid Odom $8-$10 million for five years, which is what he originally wanted. I just wouldn't do it. You can talk about our current economic climate and how that influenced these negotiations, but this situation is less about 2009-2010 and more about the summer of 2013 and beyond.
Even though the Lakers' hard-line actions didn't seem to be as diplomatic and congenial as they should be, I understood their reticence to hitch the squad's championship contention to Lamar for five whole years. Three? Absolutely. Five? Nah. Look, no one is a bigger Odom fan and borderline apologist than me. I have spent countless, exhausting hours defending him to friends and selling him to colleagues. I've been a fan of his ever since my junior year of high school, when one of my New York City family members told me there was a 6-foot-9 cat at Christ The King in Queens, the same age as me, and he played like my idol Magic Johnson.
For almost 15 years, I've dug his flair and unique skill set, and now, I most admire him as one of the league's most thoughtful and accessible players. But the same way I understood why L.A. traded Shaq in 2004 (a move that brought Odom to the Lakers), I understood the Odom situation, viewing it through a long-term prism of rebuilding capabilities.
Lamar is my favorite Laker and it's dope that he's going to stick around, at least, for the next three years and help the team win a couple more 'ships, but I don't see a 35-year-old Odom being worth $8-$9 million a year. Old players (in athletic years) with big contracts consistently keep teams from contending. How many times to do you scan a roster and notice a player making considerably more money than their age and productivity warrants? All the time, right? You know what's killing New Orleans right now? The fact that Peja Stojakovic will make $30 million over the next two years. Odom's game is incredibly skilled and nuanced, but I already notice mobility-erosion -- no real explosion, deteriorating lateral quickness, that kind of stuff. In four or five years, the Lakers would regret having Odom on the books for $9-$10 million. Sorry, 'Mar, but they would. Why no one was recognizing this kinda blew my mind.
At the end of the day, Odom was never shy about admitting he had no intentions on leaving. For the past six weeks, every time I turned around, Odom was making some comment about being a champion. When talks first broke down, he was asked if there was interest in him from other teams. His response? "I mean, I just won a championship, I'm sure there's other interest." He carries that "champion" title around with him everywhere he goes. For a player often maligned throughout his career, being the third best player on a championship team has validated him and he knows it. In fact, he revels in it. And he should. He deserves to. He didn't wanna give that up.
As far as the NBA goes, there's nothing like being a popular player on a successful Lakers squad. The city worships you. Lamar himself has talked about being "well received" whenever he steps out in La-La Land. Like he told ESPN's Shelley Smith Thursday: "I'm playing for the biggest brand in the world." He didn't want to give that up, either. "I told Ron-Ron a few weeks ago I couldn't walk away," he said, "I still had to fight. Every time negotiations didn't go the way I thought, I just took a step back, like them pulling the offer off the table, I just knew I had to fight."
Recently, Kobe said he was optimistic that Odom would return, saying Lamar makes the Lakers "much, much stronger." Everyone -- including Lamar, Buss and Kupchak -- knew that. Odom, in fact, is more valuable to the Lakers than he is to anyone else. With Odom back, L.A. is now, once again, a favorite to repeat. It's that simple.
We saw a harbinger of how the Odom-Lakers negotiations would eventually end, when Jimmy Kimmel invited the world champ Lakers to his show, shortly after they won the trophy. Odom was conspicuously absent. Kimmel noticed and asked the team if he was going to sign somewhere else. Kobe said, "He ain't goin' nowhere." His answer was quick and almost flippant. It was like he was saying, "That's just not gonna happen -- trust me. We're not stupid and he's not stupid. He'll be here."
It took a while, but everybody finally got wise.
Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.
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