The Los Angeles Lakers have at last reached terms on a new contract with sixth man Lamar Odom, after a month of frosty negotiations that might have troubled the team and its fans more than just about anything they saw during last season's playoff drive to the championship.
"I always wanted to come back because we won the championship," Odom told ESPN's Shelley Smith. "I'm playing for the biggest brand in the world. And I'm playing with the most fluid, talented center in the world in Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum's coming back and of course Kobe Bryant.
"But to now get an opportunity to play with Ron Artest, a guy I've known 16 years, it means a lot. I told Ron Ron a few weeks ago I couldn't walk away. I still had to fight. Every time negotiations didn't go the way I thought, I just took a step back, like them pulling the offer off the table, I just knew I had to fight."
Sources with knowledge of the talks told ESPN.com that Odom and the Lakers on Thursday agreed to a four-year deal worth up to $33 million if the Lakers exercise their option on the fourth season.
One source close to the process said that Odom will come away with a guaranteed $27 million from the new contract, matching the original value of the three-year, $27 million deal Lakers owner Jerry Buss pulled off the table earlier this month.
It's believed that the structure of the new contract calls for Odom to earn $25 million over the first three seasons, with the Lakers owing him a buyout of $2 million in the fourth year if they elect not to pick up their team option.
Team sources indicated that a sense of relief poured through the organization after word of the agreement spread, with Odom known to be giving serious consideration to leaving the team he helped last month to the 15th title in franchise history for a reunion with Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat.
Wade had been publicly lobbying for Odom to come "back home" for weeks. Limited in what it could offer as a team well over the salary cap, Miami was nonetheless prepared to give him a five-year deal worth $34 million with an option to return to free agency after four seasons or a four-year deal with a provision to go back on the open market after three years to try to negotiate a richer deal.
Via his Twitter account, Wade wrote Thursday night: "Happy for LO either way. [That's] family forever."
Talks between the Lakers and Odom broke down in mid-July when Buss, after an agreement had been reached with Odom's camp on an annual salary of $9 million per season, rescinded the offer when he learned that Odom was also talking with the Heat and the Dallas Mavericks.
The lack of state income tax in Florida, which helped narrow the gap between the Lakers' original offer and Miami's best offer, as well as the close relationship fostered between Odom and Wade during their one season together with the Heat in 2003-04, appeared to create a real threat of Miami stealing Odom away. The length of time the saga dragged out, though, seemed to increase the odds that Odom would return, even after sources said Buss began this week offering only $25 million over three years.
One source close to Odom told ESPN that the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday joined the bidding with a potential five-year, $40 million offer. Yet lodging such a bid also would have required Portland to trade a player -- likely Travis Outlaw -- to a team with salary-cap space like Oklahoma City, thereby creating the cap space to make such an offer after the Blazers' recent signing of free-agent guard Andre Miller.
"It's not true," Odom's agent, Jeff Schwartz, said Thursday night. "I've had no discussions this week with the Blazers about Lamar."
Odom's signing was the most significant free-agent move left to play out this summer and restores a pivotal piece to the title-winning team which also now features Odom's boyhood friend Artest. Although he initially chafed at his move to the bench last fall, Odom ultimately flourished as a sixth man last season. In spite of a back injury suffered in the second round against Houston, Odom averaged 12.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 32 minutes per game during the playoffs, when he frequently wound up teaming with Gasol in the Lakers' frontcourt with Bynum either struggling or plagued by foul trouble.
With the Odom uncertainty lifted, L.A. will have its top five scorers and top four rebounders from the 2009 championship roster to begin its title defense. The only significant loss is swingman Trevor Ariza, who left to sign a contract with the Houston Rockets after the Lakers signed Artest.
The Lakers went into the offseason hoping to convince Bryant to sign a contract extension after resolving the futures of Ariza and Odom, with Bryant possessing the option again next June of joining the free-agent class of 2010 if he chooses. Bryant could elect to hold off and retain the right to become a 2010 free agent to maintain some leverage with Lakers management. With Lakers coach Phil Jackson entering the final season of his contract, Bryant would undoubtedly want some input on a coaching successor if next season is indeed Jackson's last.
It remains to be seen whether Miami, meanwhile, will try to rebound from its Odom disappointment by ramping up efforts to trade for Utah Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer. ESPN.com also reported earlier Thursday that Riley will have a face-to-face meeting with former Indiana Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley this weekend.
In 10 NBA seasons, Odom has averaged 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds. He made $14.1 million last season to complete the six-year, $63 million contract he received from Miami in the summer of 2003.
Replacing Ariza with the more physical Artest this offseason had given the Lakers someone more capable of absorbing some of Odom's minutes and responsibilities. But Odom's exit undoubtedly would have been celebrated by other playoff contenders in the West, since it's the luxury of having three long-limbed big men to surround Bryant -- Odom, Gasol and Bynum -- that makes L.A. so fearsome. Odom also ranks as one of Artest's closest friends in the game, so his continued presence would theoretically help Jackson and Bryant manage the mercurial Artest.
"He makes us a much, much stronger team," Bryant said of Odom last during a promotional tour of Asia last week.
J.A. Adande and Marc Stein are senior NBA writers for ESPN.com. ESPN's Shelley Smith contributed to this report.