Posted Dec 13 2011 11:38AM
Lamar Odom is gone from the Lakers, which is wrong on so many levels. Wrong for him because he turned a sixth-man role into an actual starring role on two championship teams and it suddenly counts for nothing. Wrong for the Lakers, because they didn't listen when Kobe Bryant wrote his trade request in napalm, yet they're giving in with Odom when it breaks up a potential title roster.
An Odom-less Los Angeles is wrong because this was stability for him after life as a basketball nomad, wrong because L.A. traded a unique talent without any assurance it will get a player in return.
But Odom had seven seasons with the Lakers, a long run for anyone and particularly for someone who was used to moving around. Odom attended two high schools and two colleges before even reaching the pros. He was on two teams in his first five years. In L.A., he finally foung the ideal place. He was willing to accept a reserve role when others might have felt underappreciated and the team tapped precisely into the skill set of a 6-foot-10 ball handler-shooter-rebounder.
Only now, with the trade to the Mavericks on Sunday that ended his time in Los Angeles, can Odom's true value in Lakers history be defined.
The Lakers won the Shaquille O'Neal trade because of him. They lost a Hall of Fame center and they wasted what could have been another key addition. But the team still more than endured the ugly breakup between Shaq and Kobe.
The move to Dallas closes the books on one of the more concussive trades in NBA history, so important because it broke up a pairing that could have had additional championships and so heated with the debate over whether O'Neal or Bryant should have been dealt.
The divorce became final on July 14, 2004. O'Neal was traded to the Heat for Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, a first-round pick and a second-rounder in what at the time seemed like the Lakers trying to salvage whatever they could from a deal no team would make under ordinary circumstances.
It turned out to be so much more.
O'Neal had a good run in Miami -- 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds the first season, 20 and 9.2 the next as part of the last of his four championships. He was then traded to Phoenix 40 games into his third season, after a steep decline in play and many of the same emotional outbursts that turned off the Lakers.
Odom, meanwhile, played seven seasons in Los Angeles, the first four as a starter and the last three off the bench. He won two NBA titles, Sixth Man of the Year in 2011, and gold with the United States at the 2010 world championships. He played power forward and small forward and handled the ball. When injuries, usually to Andrew Bynum, forced Odom into the starting lineup, he delivered in that temporary role as well.
Butler played just one season with the Lakers, in 2004-05, before being traded. Worse, he was traded to the Wizards in the deal that returned Kwame Brown, one of the more lopsided swaps in recent NBA history. Butler went on to become an All-Star with Washington, while Brown continues to float around the league as a back-up big man. Grant played just one season in Los Angeles as well.
By December 2011, O'Neal and Grant had retired, Butler was again calling Staples Center home after signing a free-agent deal with the Clippers, and Odom was coming off a rewarding season. He was reigning Sixth Man of the Year and heading into the final fully guaranteed season on his contract.
Then it all came apart.
When he was included in the three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Odom, a sensitive sort anyway, was so hurt that when the deal was vetoed by David Stern, he asked L.A. to trade him somewhere, and this time to make it stick. The Mavericks needed to counter free-agent losses and used a trade exception to get Odom without having to send a player in return.
That blockbuster trade from 2004 had finally run its course. The Lakers won that trade, even though it was one they wish they never had to make. They got Odom. They got two titles with him. Nothing wrong with that.
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