The 2008-2009 World Champion Los Angeles Lakers had a lot of things going for them. First, obviously, they had one of the best players in the game- Kobe Bryant. They had a defensively reinvigorated Pau Gasol to go along with budding star Andrew Bynum.
They also had something else that turned out to be more important than any of those in the long run: an incredibly talented sixth-man that can play two positions, defend, rebound, and run the floor as good as any starter in the league.
Lamar Odom now appears headed out of town. "Persona non grata" in the town that took a shot on the previously beleagured but talented player.
How did this all happen? Isn't the champagne still drying in the Orlando Magic's visitor's locker room?
Can it be that a player that proved his worth averaging a double-double in February when pressed back into the starting lineup when starting center Bynum went down with yet another injury be in a position to not be welcomed back?
The rumors were swirling from the beginning of free agency that Western Conference rivals San Antonio and Phoenix were both interested. However that interest waned after the Lakers decided to let small forward Trevor Ariza go to Houston and signed Ron Artest to take his place.
It was thought by everyone that the Lakers had examined their conscience and decided on the supremely more talented Odom instead of the up-and-coming wing defender.
It was also thought that the three year, $27 million offer the Lakers put on the table would have been enough to entice Odom back to a team that essentially got better with the signing of Artest and no departures of significance.
However Odom apparently wanted more years and at least $10 million per year so he took his time to contemplate the offer. This riled Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss who promptly pulled the offer off the table, leaving Odom in limbo apparently available to the highest bidder.
Enter: the Miami Heat.
A team desperately trying to prove to their star DeWayne Wade, who could leave in free agency after the 2009-2010 season, that they are serious about contending for a title. No official offer has been made, but Miami has a lot more to lose by not signing Odom than the Lakers do.
However that does not mean that the Lakers don't need Odom. In fact, if Odom leaves, their chances for repeating as Conference champions becomes significantly more difficult.
Odom's length provided a unique ability to flank Bynum with Gasol and Odom and make the paint almost impentrable. At this point, the bench at the power forward spot consists of Josh Powell with a stretch to include Luke Walton.
That can't make you feel good if you're the Lakers. Sure Powell showed promise and Walton can contribute somewhat, but neither at Odom's level in both talent and performance.
Bynum now needs to prove he can stay healthy. Gasol, while he played tougher last year, still tends to drift from the paint. Odom brought versatility to the position that will not be replaced.
Strictly from a rotation standpoint, the Lakers need to find a middle road and bring Odom back if they want to seriously contend next year. Anything less would be failure.
Unfortunately that failure will be from the front office, not on the floor.
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