After the Lakers won their 15th championship over the Orlando Magic in five games, redeeming themselves after a terrible Finals performance to the rival Celtics, the focus turned to resigning free agents Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown.
Personally, I was confident that the Lakers would resign all three free agents. They all fit perfectly with the team, and there wouldn't be too many other options for them because of the bad economy.
Then, in the beginning of July, I heard that the Lakers offered Ariza with a five year deal worth the entire mid level exception, a very fair and expected offer. However, Ariza's agent David Lee played hardball with Lakers' owner Jerry Buss by demanding for a five year deal worth $7-8 million annually, and it backfired.
The Lakers stopped talking with Ariza's camp and decided to talk with Ron Artest, who was now available because Yao Ming's season (and possibly career) ending injury. Artest simply wasn't interested in returning to the now lottery-bound Rockets. The Lakers had always had interest in Artest due to his great desire to win, his amazing defense, and toughness.
The Lakers quickly struck a deal with Artest, who took a pay cut, signing for the mid level exception. It was the same exact deal the team offered to Ariza. However, instead of getting a solid role player who couldn't have played better, they were now getting a defensive stopper who could defend Pierce, Carmelo, and LeBron better than anyone in the league.
He's a player who was also better offensively than Ariza, as he is an excellent post up player and a better outside shooter.
Personally, I loved the move, and the Rockets responded by signing Ariza to the full mid level exception contract of five years worth around $33 million. Now, this is where Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak made a HUGE mistake. He should've talked with the Rockets about signing and trading Ariza straight up for Artest, as it would've saved both teams their full mid level exceptions.
However, Kupchak didn't want to do a sign-and-trade as, he just wanted to sign Artest as quickly as possible before he can change his mind—which he has done in the past. Later, the Lakers resigned Shannon Brown to a two year deal worth $4.2 million, and now their entire attention was on resigning Odom to a multi-year deal.
Then, the Lakers offered Odom a three year deal worth $27 million, but he denied the offer, as he wanted a longer and more lucrative deal. So Lakers owner Jerry Buss increased the offer to a choice of three years worth $30 million or four years worth $36 million—both very fair offers considering the state of the economy and Odom's inconsistent play.
Unfortunately, Odom and his agent didn't even respond to the Lakers' increased offers and started talking with the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks. They could only offer the full mid level exception of a little bit over $6 million annually over five seasons, considerably less than each of the Lakers' offers.
This angered Dr. Buss and he pulled back both offers. Today the Heat reportedly offered Odom their full mid level exception for five years worth, around $34 million.
The big mistake that Kupchak made when he didn't sign-and-trade Ariza for Artest will now severely hurt the Lakers if Odom does indeed sign with either the Heat or the Blazers.
The Blazer specifically could offer Odom more than Miami and a chance of playing for a great young and upcoming team, as the Lakers will only have the veteran's minimum to spend to replace Odom.
Now, had the Lakers signed and traded Ariza, then they would still have their full mid level exception to spend on a replacement such as Glen Davis, Joe Smith, Drew Gooden or a combination of two or three players.
The Lakers also could've went hard after Rasheed Wallace, Brandon Bass, or Antonio McDyess with the mid level when they were free agents. That would force Odom to sign with them quickly or leave to sign for less money, as he would then have no leverage.
Then, if Odom didn't respond, the Lakers would've signed one of the three other free agent big men, who all would have been great replacements for Odom. Rasheed can play center and power forward, and is a long range threat with his three point shot.
Bass is an improving power foward who is an excellent mid range shooter, and a tough rebounder snd defender. McDyess is a veteran dying for a title who can play both center and power forward, and is a good offensive and defensive player.
Overall, I am still confident the Lakers will resign Odom because I don't think Portland is interested in him, and because the Lakers' offer is still better than the Heat's.
Also, Odom has a better chance to win more titles with the Lakers and has some of his best friends, in Artest and Kobe, on the team. However, if he does leave and signs with another team, then Kupchak's decision to not sign and trade may end up costing the Lakers a couple of rings.
Their hopes will then all rest on Andrew Bynum, who has the talent, but lacks the health required for him to be depended on as of now.
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