Los Angeles Lakers fans are wondering if their forever free-spending franchise has suddenly gone cheap after shipping Lamar Odom and the $11.3 million he's owed this season and next to the Dallas Mavericks for a draft pick and a trade exception, and last week jettisoning beloved Kobe comrade Derek Fisher and a first-round pick for youngster Jordan Hill and his expiring contract.
They also sent non-factor Luke Walton and his $6.1 million salary next season, Jason Kapono plus a first-round pick, the one the Mavs provided, to Cleveland for impressive point guard Ramon Sessions and his $4.6 million player option for next season and low-wage youngster Christian Eyenga. L.A. shed about $9 million in payroll and luxury tax costs.
Mark Cuban, whom many Los Angelenos wish would become the next owner of the Dodgers (he's no longer in the running), quickly came to the Lakers' defense when asked about Dr. Jerry Buss and sons suddenly becoming cost-cutters. After all, Cuban chose the controversial path of dismantling his title team after studying the more restrictive luxury tax rules, both in harsher short-term and long-term financial penalties and ability to acquire players, in the new collective bargaining agreement.
He all but applauded the Lakers for taking necessary steps to eventually get under the luxury tax.
"The rules changed," Cuban said. "It’s not just about the money, it’s how you build a team and when you’re above the luxury tax you’re limited significantly. If you stay above the luxury tax four straight years you’re crushed, not financially, and that’s a lot, but in flexibility, you’re crushed. You have to be dumb-ass stupid to stay up there unless you have the exact team you want. So you can’t argue with their moves."
The Mavs, always one of the top-spending teams in the league during Cuban's ownership, rank eighth this season with a payroll around $71 million, only slightly above the luxury tax line. This summer, the team will get well below the salary cap and enjoy cap space for the first time in the Cuban era to chase elite free agents like Deron Williams.
The moves knocked L.A. a couple of rungs down the payroll scale and set it up to make additional moves this summer. While Lakers fans balked at basically giving away Odom in December and some were sentimental about shipping out five-time champ Fisher, Cuban said the Lakers are on the right path.
"You have to know the rules and do what you got to do," Cuban said. "Because it’ll be a lot worse when they say, 'You moron, why don’t you read the rules and make the changes? You should have known you couldn’t keep this team together.'"