Lamar Odom's Value

July 21, 2009

What is the value of a championship? What about multiple championships?

If you ask players and coaches who have never even had the chance to compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy, many of them would probably tell you that a championship is priceless.

The Los Angeles Lakers, winners of 15 championships overall, would tell you otherwise. Or at least that’s how it appears as negotiations with one of their biggest 2009 championship contributors, Lamar Odom, have come to a grinding halt.

It was reported that Odom had asked for a five year deal, and that the Lakers had countered with two high-money, lower-year offers. The first was for $30 million over three years, while the second called for $36 million over four years.

Although the two offers' yearly salary figures were reasonable in the current market, Odom was still unwilling to budge on the years, prompting an angry Jerry Buss to withdraw the offers.

Now, in what is perhaps a leverage tactic by Odom's camp, the Miami Heat and Odom have entered into negotiations for a five-year deal, albeit at a lesser annual salary.

This begs the question: How much is Lamar Odom worth to the Lakers?

It’s almost undeniable that without Odom the Lakers would probably not have won it all this past season, and it will certainly be a monumental task for them to try to defend their title this upcoming season without him. Yet despite this, the Lakers are extremely hesitant about giving into Odom’s demands.

From a business standpoint, this would appear to be prudent.

The salary cap for next season will see a decrease from last season, and the Lakers are already over the limit. For every dollar they spend now, the Lakers will be required to pay a dollar in luxury tax. Even if Odom had accepted the $9 million-a-year deal, it would actually cost the Lakers $18 million a year to resign him. And despite being a key component to their championship run, the fact of the matter is that Lakers fans come to the Staples Center to see Kobe Bryant. With or without Odom, the arena will still be sold out, and Jack will still be in his favorite seat.

From a basketball standpoint, however, Buss and Company are making a huge mistake by not biting the bullet, as the Lakers absolutely need Odom back if they are serious about going back-to-back. We’ve already seen a huge championship contributor leave in Trevor Ariza, and it will be devastating to see an even bigger contributor take the same route.

The Lakers were fortunate enough to replace Ariza with a better player in Ron Artest, but lightning doesn’t strike twice, especially when trying to replace someone as multi-talented as Odom. Should Odom walk, they would most likely be forced to replace him with a journeyman 4 such as Joe Smith or Stromile Swift.

In the midst of talks about whether the Lakers can afford Odom, the reality is that they can’t afford not to have him. Especially when one considers that the Cavs, Magic, Celtics, and Spurs all have made huge moves to put themselves in a position to win.

Odom isn't a superstar. Many wouldn’t even consider him an all-star. What he is, though, is one of the most versatile players in the game today. At 6’10” and with extremely long arms, Odom can play the 3, the 4, and the 5. His ball-handling ability, court vision, and passing skills allow him to not only bring the ball up the court, but to find teammates as well. His southpaw stroke gives him range from inside and beyond the arc.

On the defensive end, Odom’s size makes him effective against other players, and his speed and athleticism provide competent coverage of smaller players. He’s also an excellent rebounder and a decent shot-blocker.

Moreover, Odom had the highest plus-minus of any Laker this past season, at +16.4 points when he steps on the floor. That is a full four points higher than the Mamba's +12.1.

When viewed cumulatively, Odom is not a number-one option kind of guy, so much as an x-factor. A really big x-factor. And as much as he has helped the Lakers, Odom’s game has also benefitted greatly from playing with Kobe and Pau Gasol. But as Kenny Smith once said, championship teams aren’t about having the best players; they’re about having players who play best together. Odom definitely plays best with the Lakers, and the Lakers definitely play best with Odom.

So in the end, how much is Odom worth? He’s certainly worth a 16th franchise banner.

Buss truly is in a position of negotiating strength in this free agent market, as the only playoff team with significant cap room - Portland - has shown no interest in Odom. Buss therefore could probably afford to wait, and have Odom come running back for a new reduced Laker deal that still would be better than what the Heat have proposed.

Of course, the danger with that approach is that sometimes pride and principle can overtake dollars-and-cents logic, and an angry Odom could decide to sign up for duty in South Beach.

So rather than gamble, Buss should reward the man with a fifth year and start planning for another three-peat. Now that would be priceless.

By Kien Le
Staff Reporter for

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