The scattered boos showered over Lamar Odom.
He had just bricked a free throw, and it provided the fans at American Airlines Center the latest ammo to fuel criticism over his underachieving performances ever since donning a Mavericks uniform. The Lakers' 109-93 victory Wednesday over Dallas featured a new low for Odom in which he finished with one point, one rebound and one assist. But before Odom could sulk and feel sorry for himself, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant approached him.
Bryant spoke into Odom's ear for several seconds and patted him on the chest. He then hugged him. Who knows what Bryant said, since he testily told reporters it's "none of your business." But it doesn't matter. That snapshot illustrates why the Lakers shouldn't pinpoint Odom's career-low seven-point average on 34.5% shooting as justification for trading him at the beginning of training camp for a first-round pick and a $8.9-million trade exception. It may be a "pleasant surprise," as Bryant put it, that the Lakers haven't had to worry about Dallas benefiting from acquiring one of the Lakers' key assets. But the L.A. front office is adopting misleading connect-the-dots logic in believing that Odom's on-court performance would have been the same had he continued wearing the purple & gold.
As he demonstrated Wednesday night, Bryant would have constantly remained in Odom's ear to ensure that he'd weather the frustration over the Lakers' initial attempts in trading him in a deal that would've landed them Chris Paul. So would have other teammates. Odom and Luke Walton often confided in each other, whether it involved Odom talking about losing family members or Walton lamenting a chronically sore back. After joining the Oklahoma City Thunder, Derek Fisher refused to harp on the Lakers trading him last week to Houston. When he was on the Lakers, Fisher would've likely stressed to Odom to stop taking offense to the Lakers' trade attempts. Pau Gasol, who remained on the trading block leading up to the March 15 trading deadline, could have related to the uncertainty Odom felt.
For someone as emotional as Odom has shown this past season, having that strong network of support would've made a huge difference. Dallas initially adopted that approach, but it came under a different pretext. Coach Rick Carlisle has continually praised him publicly about his intangibles and his teammates provide respectful deference. But underneath the surface appears a team that is anxiously wondering when Odom will snap out of his funk. That's why it shouldn't be surprising Odom apologized to his teammates recently about his poor play. He sensed the growing frustration among the team because of it.
Part of that points to Odom adapting to a new team and a new culture. Although similar transition issues would've taken place under new Coach Mike Brown, it wouldn't have been as hard. That's because Brown initially planned to feature Odom in both his sixth-man role as well as starting in a Triple Tower lineup.The latter approach would've taken a team-wide adjustment, but that idea is something Odom actually advocated during his 2010 exit interview.
With all that set in stone, the Lakers wouldn't have had to acquire reserves such as Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. It also would've been more likely Brown wouldn't have had to endlessly shuffle his rotations around at small forward. Considering how the Lakers remained last in bench production for most of all season, it's easy to pinpoint how Odom's absence largely contributed to that instability.
That extends to their front office dealings too. The Lakers may feel estatic now that they've upgraded at point guard with Ramon Sessions. But keep in mind that the deal didn't involve the first-round pick from Dallas. It involved one the Lakers already had. They sent their pick from Dallas and Fisher to Houston for Jordan Hill, a move that would've never happened had the Lakers kept Odom.
The Lakers may enjoy the $17 million they saved in salary and luxury taxes by trading him. They may delight that Dallas hasn't improved with Odom on its team. But they should hardly feel like they made the right move. Odom's teammates and his familiar surroundings would've ensured that he wouldn't have fallen into the same funk he's experiencing with the Mavericks.