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On Lamar Odom's Return to Los Angeles and the Clippers

Mar. 08, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA;  Dallas Mavericks forward Lamar Odom (7) during a game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center.  The Suns defeated the Mavericks 96-94. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.
Mar. 08, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Lamar Odom (7) during a game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 96-94. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

As Ramona Shelburne reported on ESPNLA and LJ Hann posted here, Mo Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers has agreed to pick up his player option for next year, essentially completing a three player trade that sends Williams to the Utah Jazz and brings Lamar Odom to the Clippers from the Dallas Mavericks. The Jazz used their trade exception from last season's trade of Mehmet Okur to take on Williams' salary and the Mavericks clear out the $2.4M that Odom was guaranteed. From the Clippers standpoint the salaries are essentially a wash -- Williams post opt-in has one season at $8.5M left on his contract, Odom has one season at $8.2M.

For the Clippers, the logic of this deal hinges entirely on Odom's hinges. He came unhinged last season in Dallas -- will he be back on his hinges coming back to L.A.? Odom will turn 33 about a week into the season and is coming off the worst year of his career -- not really the sort of player you want to spend $8.2M on in general. But the season before, at the age of 31, he had the best season of his career, so the evidence suggests that Lamar's precipitous productivity plummet of last season had little to do with his aging body and much to do with his troubled mind. He was happy as a Los Angeles Laker, he freaked out when it became known that he had almost wound up in Houston as part of the David Stern-vetoed Chris Paul to the Lakers trade, and he was simply never right in Dallas.

I've seen it suggested that part of Odom's problem in Dallas was that he was asked to play small forward, a position he has not played extensively since his first stint with the Clippers. However, according to Odom actually played only one-third of his minutes at the three last season in Dallas, so it hardly explains his near total collapse. Neither his head nor his heart was into playing basketball in Dallas last season, and that's why he was so terrible that the Mavericks eventually asked him just to stay away from the team before the playoffs started.

So the big question for the Clippers is, which Odom are they getting? Sixth man of the year Laker Odom from two seasons ago, or waste of space Maverick Odom from last year? Presumably Lamar's own feelings about this trade were taken into consideration before the Clippers went forward with it. Lamar has played 11 of his 13 NBA seasons in L.A. either as a Laker or a Clipper. He is famously married to Khloe Kardasian and they have a reality TV show (I assume it's still on though it's not really on my must-see list). At this point, he is the quintessential L.A. guy. At the same time, he was pretty hacked off over the way things ended with the Lakers, so presumably he's not pining to be back in purple and gold. That leaves one choice. It's not as if Odom left the Clippers under the best of circumstances lo those nine years ago, but he did have some very good times in red, white and blue as well.

He clearly wants to play at a high level again, he's currently working hard trying to make the Olympic team (where he could conceivably be a teammate of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin), and he obviously signed off on this trade. Lamar could have taken the $2.4M from Dallas and retired to his reality TV life, but apparently he feels he has unfinished business. If he's got something to prove next season, that's all good news for the Clippers.

Because let's face it, the guy is in theory a great fit for this team. A three big rotation of DeAndre Jordan, Griffin and (good) Odom would rival any threesome in the league. He's a playmaker, which the Clippers sorely lack in the front court, and he's an infinitely better shooter than any big on the roster last season. If "stretch four" was high on the shopping list going into next season, acquiring (good) Odom is one big fat checkmark.

The funny thing is, Williams turned out to be a much better player than I ever thought he was, and he was terrific in his year and a half with the Clippers. But he's just a terrible fit for the team at this point. If Paul is the undisputed leader of the team and Eric Bledsoe is the best young prospect and budding star, where exactly does Mo Williams get minutes? Answer: he doesn't (or at least he shouldn't). So flipping Williams for a player who is (on paper at least) a much better fit is a very, very good thing. The abbreviated off-season last year, and the nature of the opportunities that presented themselves to the Clippers (i.e. acquiring Chauncey Billups and then trading for Paul) left the roster horribly unbalanced, with no opportunity to rationalize it. This type of trade is exactly the type of rationalization that should be happening in a normal off-season.

But the overall success of this deal ultimately depends on which Odom shows up.