After looking at both players the Lakers pick is not an easy call.
Only LeBron James exceeds Odom's versatility in the league, and his rebounding for the Lakers is invaluable. He is also 29 and reaching the end of the prime of his career. Ariza is the perimeter defender the Lakers have needed to pair with Bryant since Devean George left. He has led the team in scoring on a number of occasions and is very efficient. He pairs with Kobe Bryant better than any player on the team and is still only 23. He isn't however as versatile as Odom and can't play PF.
I don't think the Lakers could go wrong with either Odom or Ariza if they had to pick only one.
Personally, I would pick Ariza as he could be the starting small forward for the team for years to come, along with Bynum, Gasol and Kobe with perhaps Farmar or Brown at point guard once Fisher leaves.
Because the Lakers have both Bynum and Gasol, the ability to play power forward isn't as important—you don’t need Odom as a backup PF though it would help. Along with this, Ariza is a much better defender and would be cheaper for the Lakers. His defence and fast breaking ability could be very important for the Lakers when Kobe starts to decline in a few years time. In the end, it is Ariza's youth that could be key to keeping the Lakers in contention for as long as possible.
Ever since Lamar Odom came to LA in a trade, which sent Shaq to Miami, there have been complaints that he is an inconsistent scorer and doesn't play up to his vast potential. Every off-season and trade deadline there have been calls for him to be traded.
In January however after Andrew Bynum went down for a second straight season with an MCL tear the Lakers got a lesson on just how vital Odom could be. Stepping into the starting line-up, Odom boosted the team's offense and helped them defeat Boston and Cleveland on their respective home courts.
If Bynum turns out to be injury prone or does not develop into the player they need him to be, Odom might have to play a big role in keeping the Lakers in contention.
With Luke Walton locked up for a few more seasons, Vladimir Radmanovic sent to Charlotte and Adam Morrison unlikely to play a major role, Trevor Ariza is the other Small Forward who had emerged this season as a major force.
The Lakers second best on ball defender and arguably their most athletic player and dunker has been vital to the Lakers success this season. He gives the Lakers a second player able to defend the other team's star-especially LeBron James who he stopped twice on consecutive plays at Staples Center in the first game between the teams—and stole a Denver inbound pass which arguably won game one of the Western Conference Finals for the Lakers.
Going in to this summer however, both are free agents.
Odom is set to earn $11.4m this season, while Ariza is on the hook for $3.1m. Already over the Luxury Tax threshold, and with the salary cap set to decline, the Lakers will likely want to reduce salary (though this is Los Angeles and if he thinks it necessary, Jerry Buss might still pay both of them fairly sizable money, especially since Kobe has offered to be economical with as extension if it would help the team win).
Both players have stated that they wish to stay with the Lakers. For Odom, that will likely mean a significant cut in salary—maybe around $5m or $6m per season to stay in LA. Ariza is in line for a big increase in pay after having a stellar season. He'll be in line for at least $5m or $6m. If they were both to accept these salaries, the Lakers would almost certainly sign them both for $12m total per season.
This is still a business though, and it is very unlikely that Odom would take such a severe pay cut (though if anyone in the NBA would, it is him). That would mean that the Lakers could only sign either Odom or Ariza.
Here is how they compare:
- Age: 23
- Height: 6ft 8
- Main Abilities and Attributes: Highly athletic slasher and three point shooter who excels at on ball defense and on the break. He is young, versatile and a good team player with a good work ethic.
- 2008/09 Averages: 8.9 ppg; 4.3 rpg; 1.8 apg; 1.67 spg; 0.29 bpg.
- Career Averages: 6.9 ppg; 3.8 rpg; 1.3 apg; 1.1 spg; 0.2 bpg
- Prediction: Ariza is a five year pro who career averages have been largely dependant on his minutes. Since arriving in Los Angeles his production has improved consistently and he looks set to continue improving over the next few seasons. Hss averages were diminished by not starting for parts of the season. If he remains in L.A. he looks set to be a regular starter for the Lakers meaning that his natural progression should be buoyed by increased playing time.
- Age 29
- Height: 6ft 10
- Main Abilities and Attributes: One of the most versatile players in the league, can play either forward position or point guard if need be. One of the best rebounders in the league and a good scorer when he is being aggressive. A team first player who is known as one of the nicest people in the NBA.
- 2008/09 Averages: 11.3 ppg; 8.2 rpg; 2.6 apg; 0.99 spg; 1.26 bpg.
- Career Averages: 15.1ppg; 8.8 rpg; 4.2 apg; 1.0 spg; 1.0 bpg
- Predictio: Odom is generally a very consistent player who's lower averages this season can be explained by lower playing time and not starting. His numbers were better in the starting lineup while Bynum was out. He is unlikely to start on a Lakers team which includes both Bynum and Gasol who are both signed for the next few seasons. A full season on the bench is likely to mean slightly lower averages again and for a player entering the latter part of his career that is not a good sign.