After winning the title and heading into the off-season on a high, the Lakers had some free agents to worry about, most notably Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom.
The negotiations with Ariza stalled a bit and boom ... the Lakers went in another direction, bringing in Ron Artest instead.
Odom -- a favorite Laker, with abundant skill and size -- has now reached the point where his own contract negotiations have reached a sticking point.
A bit of a nervous time for Laker fans and Odom alike.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who improved on his offer of $8 million a season to Odom, is getting frustrated and is thinking about pulling the deal off the table soon.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak talked at halftime of a game between the Lakers and Clippers on Monday in Las Vegas at the summer league, saying that the talks with Odom left him "not as hopeful as I was on Friday."
When asked why, Kupchak said, "Just a feeling you get."
"Right now, I'm not sure we're on the same page."
Kupchak added that it might be nearing time to give up on the talks, and Odom was coy about whether or not he had an offer from the Miami Heat. (Odom played well for the Heat in the 2003-2004 season, before being shipped to Los Angeles as part of the Shaquille O'Neal trade.)
Andrew Kamenetzky of the L.A. Times caught up with Odom, who tried to be somewhat sunny in the videotaped interview, but came off decidedly neutral when asked about the state of negotiations. "It is what it is," he said.
Odom also pointed out that even if you have a great relationship, things can get uncomfortable with anyone when the topic is money. "You can have a brother, a sister, a father, but when you start talking about money, it gets a little ... ehhhh ..."
Odom acknowledges he's in the middle of a balancing act. There's an argument for trying to get the most money possible. "You take a business man, anyone with a business mind, and they want the most money possible," he says. He points out that he's 29, and needs to secure his "legacy as a basketball player, and a business man."
But at the same time, Odom is clear that having a great chance to win a title means a lot, and he articulates a sophisticated bargaining position: "We try to do what's best for both sides, like what's fair. It doesn't happen overnight."
A Fair Price for Lamar Odom
It's very hard to say what any player is worth in this economy. So far there has been no suggestion that the teams with cap space -- Oklahoma City and Portland -- are in pursuit, so on the open market his suitors are the Lakers, who have Odom's "Bird rights" and can pay him any price, or some team's mid-level exception, which starts at a little under $6 million a year.
Reportedly Odom is hoping to get $10 million a season.
There are two players who are worth comparing Odom to.
The first, and most obvious, is Odom himself. Over the last five years he has earned something in the neighborhood of $55 million. Although he's seen as an inconsistent producer from game to game, Odom has been remarkably consistent from season to season. Over the last half-decade:
Odom's PER has moved in a small window from 16.1 to 17.3. Last season it was 16.6.
His true shooting percentage has been between 52 and 58% each of those years.
His total rebounding percentage started the period at 15.9, and after a couple of off-years has been at 15.6 and 15.5 over the last two seasons.
In the 2009 playoffs, Odom was even better. According to Basketball-Reference, he had a PER of 18, a true shooting percentage of 59%, and a total rebounding percentage 16.7%.
Another comparision for Odom, from this summer's free agent market, is Hedo Turkoglu, who was also asking for $10 million a season, and reportedly received slightly more. They're very different forwards -- Odom plays more power forward, while Turkoglu handles the ball like a point guard -- but similar in that they're borderline stars for a Finals team.
By every measure, except those concerning passing, Odom's numbers look good compared to Turkoglu's. In this year's post-season, for instance, Turkoglu had a PER of 13.2 compared to Odom's 18, a true shooting percentage of 55% compared to Odom's 59%, and a total rebounding percentage of 7.3 which is less than half of Odom's 16.7.
That said, Turkoglu has value in creating shots for teammates. He assists on an estimated 21.6% of his teammates' shots when he's on the floor, compared with Odom's 9.1 rate.
What does it all mean?
The Lakers can make the case that at 29, in a bad economy and alongside Ron Artest, Odom is set to produce less on the basketball court, while the team has less ability to make money off of his efforts. They can also point out that their payroll is massive and in need of restraint. They have surely made the case that barring a big offer from Portland or Oklahoma City, or a sign-and-trade at the Lakers' behest, no one can pay Odom close to what the Lakers are offering.
The Odom camp can argue that $10 million is already a pay cut, the Lakers make more money than most teams, and how much can you ask a player to take a hit when he just won a title playing the best playoff basketball of his career?
So ... what's fair in a case like this? Both sides are right, so it's no wonder both sides sound frustrated. In a good economy, Odom is certainly the kind of player who would get a big contract. If Odom takes significantly less than $10 million from the Lakers, or plays somewhere for the mid-level, I'd take that as a sign that the economy is a factor in 2009 free agency.