Famous players as general managers — it never really works out. Michael Jordan? Pretty awful. Larry Bird? Not so hot. Chris Mullin? Possibly worse. Isiah Thomas? You know the drill. And, according to NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper, Laker All-Star Kobe Bryant would like to add the free-agent services of a forward shooting 35 percent from the floor, 59 percent from the free-throw line, and a less than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, once the offseason hits. He'd then like to shore up the Los Angeles backcourt with a point guard that will be 38 on opening night, one that is making just 37 percent of his shots this season. Silly Kobe, right?
Possibly. You likely already know that the players in question are Dallas Mavericks benchwarmer Lamar Odom and Oklahoma City Thunder point man Derek Fisher. That they're all former buds and former championship teammates of the Kobester's, he's been in contact with both since they were traded from Los Angeles, and that the Lakers could probably score both (even if neither is really scoring much this year) with a hometown discount. Here's Howard-Cooper:
Whether either would be receptive is unclear — Fisher and Odom loved their seasons in Los Angeles, but were hurt to be traded within the last 3 and a half months. It is known, however, that Bryant plans to use his close friendship with both to convince them that a reunion is in everyone's best interest, bruised egos and all.
That's a significant hurdle, mind you. Players and teams have a way of talking themselves into things during the offseason, when everyone is tied for first place and nostalgia can run deep without the influence of a new game every other night. But to hear the Lakers tell it -- and there is a very considerable feeling among many that this is just a money-saving spin, and not a bit of armchair psychology to rely on -- Odom was ready to retire from the Lakers last December after they attempted to deal him to New Orleans in a squashed move for Chris Paul, and Fisher was a threat to undermine the locker room after the team traded for Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline.
Conveniently, though, both moves saved the Lakers quite a bit of money. And even adding Odom and Fisher back to the Lakers for the veterans minimum will pump up Los Angeles' already-substantial luxury tax bill.
Odom was never going to retire, though. Even if the Lakers declined to pick up his option this summer (as the Mavericks most certainly will decline to), retirement would have meant walking away from the nearly (once lockout checks are taken out of the equation) $11.3 million he was owed in guaranteed money. And Fisher was going to look a right prat whining about not starting even if Sessions struggled out of the gate (which he did not) as a Laker. Fisher has seen Sessions before, he knows how good he is, and he wasn't going to have much of an argument to stand on even if Sessions was three-quarters of the player he's been over his career in his first months as a Laker.
No, the Lakers traded these two to save money; crippling their depth and harming their locker room in the process. Thanks to the Sessions deal, they're still a championship contender, but you can't blame Bryant for thinking that some edges need to be smoothed out featuring players he's come to trust.
The issue for Bryant and the Lakers (assuming the team wants to spend the money to bring both players back) is smoothing out that relationship.
The issue for Odom and Fisher is that they might not have anywhere else to go.
Fisher is shooting 23 percent with the Thunder. This likely won't hold up, and you know he's due for some late-game 3-pointer in a playoff contest this May. Still, if he continues to slide at this rate (sliding from what little statistical contributions he was giving his team in the previous two years, to say nothing of the poor defense), even the most wishful GMs might take a pass on adding him to their veteran club in the offseason. And Fisher, making a full $2.3 million for his short stint with the Thunder, might decide that enough's enough, and retire. We could certainly use him as a coach, an executive, or media analyst.
Entering this season, Odom had played all but one of his NBA campaigns in Los Angeles, either with the Clippers or Lakers. He's sulked, been out of shape, and hasn't gotten over a life-shaking offseason that has left him an outcast even on a welcoming and very, um, "veteran" team in Dallas. Outside of sticking with the Lakers, being dealt to a heady, defending champion should have been right up Odom's alley. Instead, he's flopped distressingly in his time with the team that swept the Lakers out of the playoffs last year.
If you're a GM, why would you take a chance on Odom, knowing that Los Angeles is really the only place he wants to be? And that he doesn't really take kindly to new faces, no matter how inviting they are? Odom is a once-in-a-generation talent, and he still has a few ("very," potentially) good years left. I'd assume that, league-wide, the general consensus regarding Odom is that those years could only be eked out playing alongside his buds in Los Angeles. Even if Metta World Peace is let go this summer with the amnesty clause.
On paper, these aren't good moves for the Lakers. But as we've noticed throughout our career with Kobe, he tends to warily regard what's cold, and on paper. Even at the tail end of their careers, the Lakers still need Odom and Fisher.
And, hurt feelings aside, Odom and Fisher need the Los Angeles Lakers. As always, it's up to the Buss family to open up their ever-growing bank account, and make it happen.
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