Last year was a difficult one in Lamar Odom’s personal life, and he was awful on the court for a Dallas team creative enough to use him in a variety of ways in lineups of all shapes and sizes. His shot fell apart from everywhere on the floor, including at the rim, where Odom lacked that extra bit of explosion required to finish over and through NBA-level defenders. He shot just 52.9 percent at the basket, a tick below Jared Jeffries and one of the half-dozen worst marks among all NBA power forwards. His rebounding fell off, he looked out of shape and the Mavericks played worse with Odom on the floor — once unthinkable for one of the league’s annual plus/minus leaders — until they finally told him to go away.
But the season is over, and the Clippers are reportedly showing interest in dealing for Odom, who will turn 33 in the first week of the 2012-13 regular season. The talks are centering on guard Mo Williams and may involve the Lakers as a third-team facilitator via the trade exception from the deal that sent an unhappy Odom to Dallas in December, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
The basic structure of the deal would involve the Mavericks trading Odom to the Clippers, who would send Williams (who will make $8.5 million next season in the final year of his contract) to the Lakers for salary-matching purposes. That makes some degree of sense for all three teams, though the Clippers may demand a sweetener for helping the Mavs shed all of Odom’s 2012-13 salary of $8.2 million, and it’s unclear how hungry the Lakers are to add a fairly sizable contract that will count double because of luxury-tax penalties. The Mavs are already out a future first-round pick via the original Odom deal, so it will be difficult for Dallas to supply a sweetener because the league prohibits teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years.
A quick team-by-team look at what’s at stake here:
• Mavericks: The motivation is obvious: They don’t want Odom, and they need to free up every dollar possible to make point guard Deron Williams a true max-level offer. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported late Tuesday that Williams may be leaning toward re-signing with the Nets. The Mavs are positioned in a way that they could abort the Williams plan, re-sign some of their free agents to one-year deals and work the trade market until free agency comes around again next summer. But if they want to make an honest run at Williams now, every dollar counts. That includes Odom, who can be bought out for just $2.4 million by the close of business on Friday.
If the Mavs can’t get that $2.4 million off their books, they could only trim their cap figure to $49.3 million once you factor in their upcoming first-round pick and cap holds for empty roster spots. That figure includes only the guaranteed portion of Vince Carter’s salary ($2 million of his $3.1 million salary), and it includes nothing for Brandan Wright, a bouncy big man whom the Mavs can bring back for just shy of $1 million if they’d like. It also includes no cap holds for any outgoing free agents. In other words: It is the lowest possible figure for any scenario in which the Mavs cannot manage to dump Odom.
Slice center Brendan Haywood’s salary off that figure via the amnesty provision, and you’re down to $40.95 million, leaving Dallas (in this theoretical scenario) with $17.1 million of cap space. Williams is eligible for a maximum starting salary of $17.17 million next season, and if he’s not willing to take a tiny pay cut in Year 1 (in addition to the 4.5 percent annual raises that Dallas can offer, compared to 7.5 percent from Brooklyn) to come home to Dallas, perhaps the Mavs never had any real shot at him. But the math is tight and the mechanics are tricky; unloading Odom would clean things up and give the Mavs more flexibility.
• Clippers: With only six rotation players on the books for next season, the Clippers are thin pretty much everywhere. But the crisis is more glaring up front, where the team once again has to find a third, fourth and fifth big man to play behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers have no cap room with which to sign those players, and the mid-level exception won’t be enough to sign any real impact big man. It would be enough to sign Odom without trading for him, but he’ll have other suitors, and swapping salaries rather than adding one surely appeals to owner Donald Sterling.
If Williams is the price, the Clippers can probably survive that loss, provided coach Vinny Del Negro is willing to give Eric Bledsoe more run next season. The world’s best point guard still plays here, Bledsoe is on the rise as an impact two-way player and free agent Chauncey Billups has expressed a desire to come back. Depth on the wing is an issue, but depth everywhere is an issue; the Clippers didn’t trust the shaky defense of the Griffin/Jordan combination when it counted, and they’d do well to find backups other teams will actually have to guard next season. Odom might not be the answer, especially if it means losing a valuable bench contributor, but it’s worth discussing.
• Lakers: The Lakers need anyone who can hit an outside shot, and Williams fits that bill nicely. Good defenses simply ignored the Lakers’ point guards and small forwards to make things difficult elsewhere, and the team’s players at those positions couldn’t make anyone pay. Williams would, and he’s also more adept at working off the ball than Ramon Sessions (a free agent) or Steve Blake. Any point guard who plays with Kobe Bryant must work off the ball well, and while Sessions showed some ability to cut for floaters and runners when defenses ignored him, he remains a traditional pick-and-roll point guard who better with the ball in his hands.
Williams, 29, would fit well with the Lakers. The only questions concern money and Los Angeles’ future at point guard. The Lakers, well over the tax line, have shown in several moves (the Derek Fisher trade, the Odom deal, the aborted Chris Paul deal) that they’ll operate more judiciously under the league’s new tax regime. Will they really be willing to add Williams’ salary without finding savings somewhere? One way to find savings would be to let Sessions go in free agency, but someone is going to have to play point guard on this team in 2013-14, right?