And so it's come to this: Lamar Odom's time as a member of the Dallas Mavericks ends not with a bang, not with playoff redemption or a long-hoped-for moment in the sun after a season shrouded in darkness, but with a whimper of what amounts to a release.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, an agreement reached Sunday allows the two sides to part company immediately, with the long-struggling Odom leaving Dallas for the remainder of the season without the defending NBA champs actually having to release him, and thus holding on to his rights.
"The Mavericks and I have mutually agreed that it's in the best interest of both parties for me to step away from the team," Odom said in a statement to ESPN.com. "I'm sorry that things didn't work out better for both of us, but I wish the Mavs' organization, my teammates and Dallas fans nothing but continued success in the defense of their championship." [...]
Sources said Monday that Odom's departure will be immediate and that the Mavericks intend to simply list him as inactive for the rest of the season instead of outright releasing him, leaving open the possibility that they could still trade him after the season in conjunction with the draft. Any team that has Odom on its roster as of June 29 must buy him out by that date for $2.4 million or otherwise accept responsibility for the full $8.2 million that Odom is scheduled to earn in 2012-13.
The Mavs acquired the 13-year veteran before the season started in what looked like a steal of a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson sent the Lakers a 2012 first-round draft pick and an $8.9 million trade exception for Odom, who reportedly demanded Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak trade him after feeling betrayed by his inclusion in a league-vetoed deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Staples Center and made Odom a part of the New Orleans Hornets.
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At the time of the trade, the Mavs were thought to have scored a huge coup — Odom, a 6-foot-10 jack of all trades and reigning Sixth Man of the Year, could help cushion the loss of championship center Tyson Chandler in free agency, giving the Mavs a versatile frontcourt scorer and defender whom coach Rick Carlisle could deploy in a variety of lineups to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. That vision never materialized, though.
Odom struggled mightily from the season's opening tip, posting career lows in virtually every statistical category, eliciting vociferous boos from the Dallas faithful and looking like a lost soul more often than not. His on-court struggles followed a tumultuous offseason during which one of his cousins (someone Odom called "one of my favorite people in the world") died after being shot. Shortly thereafter, Odom was a passenger in an SUV that was involved in an accident that killed a teenage cyclist. After spending his offseason months dealing with those tragedies, Odom never seemed quite ready to contribute, whether physically (he came into the season out of shape, especially in comparison to last year, when he'd just come off a stellar turn for the U.S. national team in the FIBA World Championships) or emotionally.
Phil Jackson, who saw Odom shine as a sixth man during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, reached out in hopes of jumpstarting the struggling 32-year-old forward, but it was to no avail. When Odom's poor play continued after a four-game leave of absence from the team — during which he returned to L.A. to tend to his father, who'd reportedly had a health scare — the Mavs decided to send him down to the D-League, an unprecedented step for a player of his caliber. He never actually suited up for the Texas Legends, as Dallas recalled him before he practiced or played in the D-League, but the decision itself spoke volumes; the Mavs' brass hoped some time away from the spotlight would both help him get right and help the team play more like the title winner it was last year than the seventh-seeded squad it's been thus far this season. Odom never got that time away and never got his flow back; Dallas never got the shot in the arm it hoped Odom would bring; and now, he's gone.
What comes next for Odom is anybody's guess, but it seems like a good bet that he'll take some time away from the game to get his house in order. Last month, Odom spoke with Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Marc J. Spears about his struggles on the court, the myriad hardships he's faced off the court, and trying to get a handle on why things are the way they are.
"I'm just trying to understand life, really," Odom said. "You think somebody got it bad and then you turn on the news and read about somebody else's situation, and they got it just as bad, if not worse, than you do. There is still a lot to smile about even with the trials and tribulations.
"I'm one of those dudes who feel like I go through it for a reason. The reason is to make me better."
As someone who loves the collection of talents at Odom's disposal and the joyful brand of basketball he plays when he's at peace and firing on all cylinders, here's hoping he's able to figure it out. Lamar Odom deserves a better ending than this.
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