Revisiting the Lakers and Lamar

One of the strangest developments of this strange season is that the Los Angeles Lakers have been justified for trading Lamar Odom for next to nothing before the start of the season.

There were no immediate benefits. They got a first-round draft pick and an $8.9 million trade exception. The player who once playfully reminded Pau Gasol that he was traded for Kwame Brown while Odom was traded for Shaquille O’Neal had been traded for nothing but air.

For the suddenly cost-conscious Lakers it still beats being on the hook for Odom’s full salary this year while he is producing half the numbers he put up last season.

In other words, we reacted too quickly when we said the Lakers reacted too quickly.

The three-team trade that would have sent Odom to New Orleans and Gasol to Houston and brought Chris Paul to the Lakers fell apart on a Thursday. Odom met with Lakers management on Friday, then skipped out on the Lakers’ first practice. The next day the Lakers shipped Odom off to Dallas.

There was outrage throughout Lakerland, emanating from the players in the practice facility and spreading outward. How could the Lakers give up a key part of their back-to-back championship runs ... and send him to the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season?

It turns out just about anything would be better than watching him slip so drastically on their account. He has gone from averaging 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in 2010-11 to 7.7 and 4.5. His shooting is down to 36 percent. He worked his way down the bench (Kobe Bryant jokingly referred to Odom as “the best eighth man in the NBA this year” before the Lakers played Dallas last week) and almost wound up in the D-League.

At least he’ll return to a basketball court Saturday night. Odom was originally scheduled to play in Frisco, Texas, for the Texas Legends, but it appears he will now report to Dallas instead for the Mavericks' matchup with the Jazz. He hasn’t been in a Mavs uniform since Feb. 20, missing the past four games to clear his head and visit his father in California. The Mavs lost all four, and they’ve also lost their patience with Odom.

“We need people that are engaged and we need people that are into it,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said on ESPN Dallas Radio.

That description wouldn’t apply to Odom. It might not for the rest of the season.

“I hope I’m wrong, but I think he’s out of it,” a team source said when I asked if Odom might be mentally gone for good.

This is what the Lakers must have seen coming. They’d been around him enough to gauge his moods, and they saw the toll of an offseason in which he attended the funeral of a slain cousin and then was a passenger in a car involved in a traffic accident that wound up fatally injuring a pedestrian. It was a particularly troubling time even in a life that had been filled with loss, from his mother to his infant son. In the summer he told the Los Angeles Times he “thought [he] was breaking down mentally.”

It doesn’t take much for Odom to feel betrayed, and with his grief-stricken summer as the precursor the voided trade left him lower than he had been in his time with the Lakers. This would have been the Lamar Odom they would have to deal with.

When they traded him he couldn’t bring any of the goodwill he built in L.A. with him. He was respected in the locker room. Players naturally gravitated to him. Even Phil Jackson in his grumpiest moods had a hard time staying mad at him. He was a go-to guy for the media, a favorite of the fans.

None of that equity transferred to Dallas. All he’s done there is underperform for a team that desperately needed him to provide some of the depth lost when Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea went elsewhere. The fans have had it. ESPN Dallas columnist Jean Jacques-Taylor started a Facebook post with “Lamar Odom is…” and his followers left some pretty nasty descriptions in the comments.

There’s no way to see if a return to the more forgiving environs of Lakerland would cure Odom’s blues. Even if the Mavericks bought him out -- and they say they won’t -- the new collective bargaining agreement prohibits waived players from re-signing with their previous teams until one year after they have been traded or the July 1 expiration of their contracts.

Would he have found his way out of his funk sooner if he stayed in L.A.? The Lakers couldn’t take that chance. Not for what it would cost them. They’d rather have the empty space. Feel free to question their choice to count cash while Kobe hears the clock ticking on his elite-level years. It won’t change the reality that their mindset is to shed money unless they can add the type of player that will put them over the top.

In Odom’s current mindset, he would have dragged them down.