In Buss We Trust: Lakers Owner Calls Odom's Bluff and Wins Big
Sorry Miami, Lamar Odom is staying in L.A.
But I'm not here to crown the Lakers repeat champions or to congratulate Odom for being rational. No, I want to give credit to someone who really made this happen. Someone who's been making it happen in L.A. for decades.
His name is Jerry Buss and his franchise is one of the most revered in all of sports.
Yet every offseason, as if on cue, the media and fans start to doubt him and question his decision-making abilities.
This year it was about Odom. Last year it was Bynum's extension, while two years ago it was Kobe Bryant demanding to be traded. And who can forget the infamous Shaq trade of 2004?
But in each and every case, Buss has proven his critics wrong. He was right to pull the offer from Odom when he found out that he was talking to the Heat and he was right to make a lower offer when Odom came back to the negotiating table.
Odom ended up taking less money than originally offered to stay with the Lakers. He received a three-year deal worth $25 million, instead of what was reportedly a three-year deal worth $30 million offer last week. Oh, and by the way, the fourth year in the agreement is a 'team option' with only a $2 million buyout if they decide they no longer need his services.
It's no secret in basketball circles that Buss is an avid poker player and in this case, he took the pot. Not only is Lamar Odom returning to the Lakers for less than what was originally offered, Buss also got Ron Artest to sign for the mid-level exception, taking the place of another Laker who thought he could challenge Buss at the poker table.
Trevor Ariza now has to spend the the next five years watching the Lakers win championships from his living room, while Odom was smart enough to take the money and stay right where he belongs.
But it was Buss' decision in the summer of 2004 that really defines what kind of owner he is.
With most everyone in the sports world taking Shaq's side in the Shaq-Kobe feud, Buss was smart enough to realize that the future of the N.B.A. and his franchise belonged to Kobe and not the overweight, overpaid center who shouted "Pay Me Mother f***er!'" at him during a preseason game.
Shaq may have won a ring with Miami, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone nowadays who thinks Buss made a mistake in picking Kobe over Shaq in 2004.
When Kobe demanded to be traded a few years later, Buss didn't nervously pull the trigger as many in the L.A. media begged him to do. He stood pat. Kobe won an MVP award the following year and led the Lakers to the Finals. And we all know what happened the year after that.
There's no longer any talk of Kobe leaving the Lakers now.
But even Buss is not immune to the occasional mistake. He did sign Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic to a three-year deal worth $15 million last summer, before "The Machine" started only making bricks.
But in the game of basketball, much like in the game of poker, you can miss a few and still win in the end.
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