It took less than one month for four of the 10 starting players in June's NBA Finals to find themselves on different teams.
The Los Angeles Lakers let Trevor Ariza bolt to Houston, and the Orlando Magic sent Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston to New Jersey in a trade for Vince Carter after watching Hedo Turkoglu sign a multi-year deal with the Raptors.
Amazingly enough, this mass exodus from teams that were just in the NBA Finals has seemed to barely register a blip on anyone's news cycle, especially compared to the coverage being given the seemingly inevitable departure of the Lakers' sixth man Lamar Odom.
Odom, a key component to the Lakers’ championship run last season, has painted himself into a corner in contract negotiations with L.A., and now it seems the Lakers are going to call his bluff. By allowing Odom to return to the team from which they originally acquired Odom from for Shaquille O'Neal four seasons ago, the Lakers have proven there is good reason they have 30 appearances in the league's championship round and the Heat have one.
Think about this: O'Neal wanted $20 million a year from L.A. for five years. The Lakers say no. Shaq leaves, and two seasons later, does indeed get a ring with the Heat, and it appears that maybe Miami got the last laugh.
The Lakers turn the O'Neal trade into Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, and Pau Gasol (via Kwame Brown, via Caron Butler). So while Shaq got his laugh first, the Lakers have now had back-to-back appearances in the finals whilst O'Neal has now used that same contract with three different teams. It's worth noting the past two seasons have seen the Lakers in the Finals and O'Neal (who has been in the same division as the Lakers), out of the postseason and a first-round exit.
Now Odom is trying to milk L.A. out of a five-year deal and again Laker GM Mitch Kupchak is more than willing to allow him to leave. If the Lakers were willing to let Shaq go, why does Odom think they'll bow down to him? Shaq was one of the most dominant big men to ever play the game; Odom is the Lakers' sixth man.
Yes, Odom does have a skill set that is hard to duplicate, but not impossible, and more importantly, what’s stopping the Lakers from just switching up their game-plan altogether? Just as they did when Shaq left.
Which brings me to the meat of this diatribe.
I have just the player to replace Odom and lock up the Western Conference and probably the title again.
Really, this is a no-brainer. The Knicks aren't willing to give Lee the money or contract length he desires. (I've heard rumors that Lee is seeking somewhere in the $13 million per year range, but that may a bit of a stretch). The Lakers don't want to give Odom a five-year deal at age 30, but they should be more than willing to give Lee that deal at age 26. Even at $10 million per, Lee would be a bargain. Don't think so?
Last season, Odom averaged 11.3 ppg/8.2 reb/2.6 asst, while Lee's averages in New York last season were 16.0 ppg/11.7 reb/2.1 asst. Lee also led the NBA with 65 double-doubles, finishing third in the NBA in rebounding.
What's in it for the Knicks? With the emergence of Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic has become completely expendable, especially after netting a total of zero points in the finals, and Adam Morrison has shown that he may be ready to play a full season and appears to have regained his shooting touch in summer league play. Both Vujacic and Morrison would fit well in Knick Head Coach Mike D'Antoni's seven-seconds-to-shoot style offense as well as give the Knicks more flexibility in trade scenarios next summer.
The Lakers, on the other hand, would have some combination of Gasol, Bynum, and Lee on the glass all game, every game to go with the NBA's best scorer in Kobe Bryant and arguably the league's best defender in Ron Artest.
The Lakers should let Lamar Odom go surfing on South Beach and immediately turn their attention to Madison Square Garden. If they can somehow add David Lee to their roster, all Kobe Bryant haters could immediately begin gnashing their teeth for the next few years because the Western Conference will be saturated in Purple and Gold for the foreseeable future.
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