Odom Could Be the Difference for Lakers

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Last year's NBA championship wasn't won by Kobe Bryant. Nor was it
won by Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Trevor Ariza, Lamar
Odom
or anybody else.

It was, essentially, won by a team.

Now, with one essential piece of that team considering leaving L.A., the
2010 championship hopes of the Lakers could hang in the balance.

In truth, the drama that ensued from the millionaire Odom wanting a few more
million dollars from millionaire owner Jerry
Buss
was largely off-putting. It's hard to sympathize with a rich man
wanting more money or with a rich man looking to hang tight to his money.

At the same time, the possibility of Odom signing with Miami (and thus
transforming the Heat into an immediate contender) begs the
question: Can the Lakers win without Odom?

The answer can't be given in a simple "yes" or "no."

Of course, the Lakers added one of the most tenacious players in the league
in Ron Artest. His presence in the
frontcourt adds a new dimension to the Lakers on both ends of the court. His
career average of 16 points and five rebounds per game can serve as a worthy
replacement of Odom's 15 points and 8.8 rebounds.

However, the Lakers already lost Trevor
Ariza
, who accounted for more than 11 points per game in the Lakers'
postseason run. While Artest is an upgrade for the Lakers, he cannot replace
both Ariza and Odom.

Artest aside, Odom grew into a genuine difference-maker in this year's
postseason. Facing the Celtics in last year's NBA Finals, Odom looked strong
when the Lakers were ahead but was hard to find when the Lakers needed a big
play. From the outset of the 2008-09 season, it was clear the Lakers had a very
different Lamar Odom.

Odom was at times unstoppable, fearlessly facing the rim and attacking the
basket. His numbers and his minutes went down, but for Odom, the focus was not
on making every play but instead making the big plays.

It was only fitting that Odom capped off the championship run with perhaps
his finest game of the playoffs, scoring 17 points, collecting 10 rebounds and
knocking down all three of his 3-point attempts as the Lakers beat the Magic
99-86 in the decisive Game 5.

And while his presence on the court is valuable in its own right, the uncertain
contributions from Andrew Bynum only
place more need on the Lakers to bring back Odom. Bynum averaged just 17.4
minutes per game in the playoffs, unable to warrant playing time with his 6.3
points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game. Bynum is capable of having a big
game, but the Lakers had the luxury to bring Odom off the bench to rejuvenate
the starting unit.

The lack of that very asset proved to be the difference between a
championship and elimination for the Celtics in the 2009 playoffs. Already
without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics
lost Leon Powe early in the first
round of the playoffs. Though Powe is hardly an NBA superstar, his absence
destroyed the Celtics' depth at forward, forcing backup Glen Davis into a starting role and giving crucial minutes to Brian Scalabrine and Mikki Moore.

Coincidentally, Moore's name has popped up as a potential replacement for
Odom on the Lakers' roster. That fact alone should be enough to scare the
Lakers into upping the ante for Odom.

Still, Odom's price (four years and $40 million) seems somewhat unreasonably high, especially considering he
can't make as much per year with any other team. He may have already cost
himself some money by holding out for more. The Lakers are still very much in
control of the situation, though it's in their best interest to end the
stalemate and move swiftly before Miami, Dallas, New York or somebody else
swoops in and steals Odom.

It may be a matter of a few million dollars, but it very well could be the
cost of winning a championship.

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