TV announcers have said the Lakers will need to make a change once the playoffs are over.
Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza have been competing to win their first NBA championship, which they did yesterday. They achieved their goal trying to avoid the fact that one of them won't be on the Lakers next year.
The Lakers have eight players that are owed $74 million next year, assuming Kobe Bryant does not opt out of his contract. That figure is over the salary cap, and it will be a challenge to bring back both players.
There may be a solution though. Jerry Buss said he won't cut away some salary, saying after the 2002 NBA finals, "We're going way over the tax!" Next season, 10 players made it back to the Lakers roster.
Odom is currently paid $14.4 million a year, and this is the last year of his contract. Ariza is paid $3.1 million a year.
We can expect Ariza, 23, to get one of his first big contracts of his career. Expect him to make double the amount he made this year. Expect this to be Odom's last big contract. Something that sounds reasonable is the MLE, (Mid Level Exception) starting at around $5.6 million and expanding to around $8 million.
"Sometimes you have to make tough decisions," a Lakers official said.
Both players are iron men as shown above, playing in almost every single game this season. Odom has played more minutes throughout the season than Ariza, hence his averages are much higher. This reason is because Odom has been a backup to Pau Gasol.
If Odom leaves, that would impact the rotation of the Lakers in a huge way. They would need Josh Powell to become one of the most improved players in the league to be a solid back-up to Pau.
It also takes away the luxury the Lakers had in which Odom, a 6'10" PF, could bring the ball up the court, lead the way, and ignite a fast break. It also takes away having that big lineup, consisting of Bynum, Pau, Odom, Bryant, and Fisher.
It also hurts when Bynum gets in foul trouble too early, limiting him to 15 MPG. They can't have Odom come off the bench anymore to help fill in that void offensively and defensively.
The games in which Lamar has not started, he has averaged 9.5 PPG and 6.1 RPG playing 26.5 MPG.
In the 60 games Ariza came off the bench, he averaged 8.5 PPG and 4.3 RPG in 23 MPG.
A key stat is the Lakers went 5-1 in the playoffs when Lamar had a double-double. Odom averaged 12 PPG and nine RPG in the playoffs.
Ariza is an energy guy, whether it's at home or on the road. Like we saw in Orlando, Ariza was fired up after the altercation with Hedo, his former teammate for two years.
"I just go out and play the game," Ariza said. "You start messing up when you put too much pressure on yourself. Just come into the game clear and just try to play hard."
Ariza led the Lakers in three-point shooting at 47.6 percent, and also shot 49.7 percent from the field, playing 31 MPG and averaging 11.3 PPG.
Now that's consistent.
Now people say Kobe might opt out and take a pay cut for the Lakers to sign both players. Kobe is going to have to pretty much play for free in order for that to happen. It's not going to happen.
The Detroit Pistons is a realistic place that Lamar could go. They have a lot of cap coming off this season and signing Lamar alongside Ben Gordon could make this team a contender, without having to start young again.
The Lakers don't need Lamar to win, but when he performs at a high level, they are pretty much unbeatable. That's a nice luxury to have.
Picking Ariza over Odom has a risk though. Yes, he still has time to develop, but he might not turn out to be that player that people expect him to be in the long run. Odom on the other hand is ready here, and now. Keeping him would guarantee championships for the next couple of years unless some team pulls a Boston Celtics move anytime soon.
It's a tough decision either way.
The Lakers have to act fast if they want to have a chance to repeat.