Step back Step up
Only in Los Angeles, it seems, could there be a basketball meltdown in the middle of July.
Only in a Southland summer could there be two prolific baseball teams, a historically prolific soccer player, and yet all anybody really cares about are puny initials.
What’s up with A.I.? What’s going on with L.O.?
For the sake of hardwood sanity in this hoops capital of the world, I come forward today with two pleas.
Please, Donald Sterling, do not be suckered into signing Allen Iverson.
Please, Jerry Buss, do whatever it takes to sign Lamar Odom.
Both owners are on the spot here, with resolutions coming any day now, and the predictions are mixed.
It’s a good guess that Sterling will not impose his ticket-selling will on basketball boss Mike Dunleavy, who has reportedly done his due diligence and decided that Iverson would be a bad fit.
However, the guess on whether Buss will open his wallet and his mind to re-sign the Lakers’ most important missing piece is anybody’s guess, so we’ll start there.
This is an owner who was so infatuated with Ron Artest, he allowed Trevor Ariza to walk without ever really giving him a chance to say he really wanted to stay.
Mitch Kupchak may be the face of the Artest acquisition, but Buss is the brains, Buss was the mandate, and, who knows, maybe he thinks Artest is such a tough guy he can replace two guys?
Artest is not. Artest cannot. If the Lakers do not re-sign Odom, they will not win a second consecutive championship, period, end of dynasty, and I’m thinking I’m not the only one who believes that.
A couple of weeks ago at his basketball camp, when asked whether he thought Odom was coming back, Kobe Bryant said, “He better be.”
That should have been enough for Buss to sign Odom on the spot. Does he really want to pick a fight with his best player? Does he really want to act stronger than the guy who just carried his team to the championship?
Has he forgotten the madness of two summers ago? We’ve all seen Bryant rant and rave and pout. If the Lakers do not sign Lamar Odom, that previous outburst will seem like a giggle.
We’re talking $4 million here. The Miami Heat is guaranteeing Odom an extra $4 million above the Lakers’ guaranteed $30-million offer.
The Heat contract is for more years, thus less annual salary, but it’s still about that $4 million, because the NBA culture values guaranteed money above all else.
Odom, like many players, comes from an economically depressed background where sometimes even the sunrise was not a certainty. In locker rooms everywhere, players believe only in the guaranteed green, and who can blame them?
Buss needs to step up, swallow hard and give Odom that extra $4 million, even if it means he has to pay another $4 million in luxury tax.
That’s four playoff games. That’s less than one year for Trevor Ariza. A championship never came so cheap.
In any other year, this deal would already be done, there is no more decisive and competitive owner in sports than Buss. But something feels different here.
It was strange that Buss did not attend the team’s championship-clinching game in Orlando, nor its victory parade or Coliseum celebration.
It was downright sad that, judging from a photo published by TMZ.com, Buss spent the parade playing cards by himself at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens.
The owner has never seemed more awkwardly out of touch with his proud creation. And while Artest is clearly a better player than Ariza, to quickly make that move shows a lack of understanding of the locker-room chemistry that made the Lakers so great. Heck, even Kobe isn’t sure they will be a better team with Ron-Ron.
The only way that move will not blow up the room is if Odom comes back to keep everyone calm.
He has become so much more than a matchup nightmare; he has become a coach’s dream.
How many stars would agree to begin the game on the bench? How many veterans would not openly grumble when watching Andrew Bynum mess up the floor that he should be on?
Bring back Odom not only because of his playoff success, but also because of Bynum’s playoff failures, important insurance against the distinct possibility that the kid just can’t bring it for eight months.
Buss knows all this. That he pulled his offer off the table is just another card trick by a guy who obviously is still full of them.
But enough is enough. It’s time for the invisible man to show the Lakers that he is still there.
Sign L.O., and do it as quickly as the Clippers are going to dump A.I.
That’s what is happening down the hall, with Dunleavy finally realizing the foolishness of his suggestion after speaking to Iverson’s former coaches and executives.
There was talk that Iverson was Sterling’s idea, a way to juice ticket sales, but Dunleavy acknowledges that it was him.
“The guy is a great player, he’s a warrior,” said Dunleavy.
But Dunleavy was also reminded this week that the guy will split a locker room faster than a double-team, and that Iverson’s after-hours influence on young guys such as Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon could outweigh his on-court lessons.
Dunleavy is supposed to meet with Iverson later this week but apparently it’s only a formality; he wants the Clippers to stop chasing.
It is assumed Sterling will agree.
Just as the Poker Player needs to know when to hold them, the Donald needs to know when to fold them.