Consistency key to keeping Odom around

Question: What is the mark of a fair referee, an appetizing flan dessert and Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom’s Sixth Man of the Year season in 2010-11?

Answer: Consistency.

Odom had perhaps the finest season of his 12-year career last season, showing a consistency that he had lacked in the past. And yet, his spot on the team going forward is somewhat uncertain.

He was already dangled in a trade offer to Minnesota prior to the draft in June in an attempt to acquire the Timberwolves’ No. 2 pick, according to reports. And Wednesday, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chad Ford reported that the Lakers are expected to offer “some combination” of Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to Orlando in a bid for Dwight Howard.

If Odom avoids being dealt out of town this season, his future with the Lakers is still tenuous despite that he is signed through 2012-13.

He is set to make $8.2 million next season, but only about $2 million of that is guaranteed, meaning the Lakers could decide to avoid the luxury tax hit that would come from carrying Odom on their books. Two seasons from now, 2013-14, is the first year of the new collective bargaining agreement when the new, harsher luxury tax penalty kicks in. But general manager Mitch Kupchak will surely be tasked with paring down the payroll every opportunity he gets between now and then.

Teams will have to pay an incremental tax that increases with every $5 million above the tax threshold ($1.50, $1.75, $2.50, $3.25, etc.), whereas in the past it was just a dollar-for-dollar fee and the Lakers paid it readily ($19.9 million in 2010-11; $21.4 million in ’09-10). With the luxury tax line estimated to be somewhere around $70 million in 2012-13 and the Lakers already pledging to pay about $46.9 million to Kobe Bryant and Gasol that season, letting Odom go could be a necessary sacrifice to avoid a wallet-gauging luxury tax penalty for owner Dr. Jerry Buss.

If he stays on the team for all of 2011-12, Odom can do a lot to convince Buss to dip into his incoming Time Warner Cable television deal money next season to keep the versatile forward around by continuing to be consistent performer game to game rather than a once-in-a-while dynamo as he’s been for most of his career.

Odom shot 53 percent from the field last season, the best percentage of his career. He registered 28 double-doubles and played in all 82 games. He won the hearts of Lakers fans who had written him off as a tantalizing talent that would never realize his full potential.

Not too long ago, a great game by Odom would almost come as a surprise.

After Game 1 of the 2010 Western Conference finals against Phoenix, Amare Stoudemire called Odom’s 19-point, 19-rebound effort “lucky.” Odom refused to wage a war of words and instead followed up his performance with 17 points and 11 rebounds in Game 2. The Lakers won both games to go up 2-0 in the series. Phoenix, considered to be the heavy underdog, went on to tie the series 2-2 before losing Game 5 on Ron Artest’s miraculous buzzer-beating putback and Game 6, thanks to one of the strongest playoff performances of Bryant’s career. If Odom didn’t provide consistent production, maybe the Lakers lose that series.

Odom lost one of his allies when Phil Jackson retired. Jackson went to bat for the lefty when Odom became a free agent in the summer of 2009, pleading with Buss to re-sign him. Continuing the consistent play he displayed last season will only help Odom develop a supporter in new coach Mike Brown as well.

Brown could end up having the same conversation in the summer of 2012 with Buss that Jackson had, asking the owner to pay the stiff penalty on Odom for '12-13 because he is too vital to lose.

This all could be moot if Odom is needed as the kicker to acquire Howard from Orlando, or Chris Paul from New Orleans, or Deron Williams from New Jersey.

But one thing is certain: If Odom isn't traded, the more consistent he plays, the better chance he'll be a Laker next season.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.