Why We're Not Freaking Out About Lamar Odom

I've been pretty quiet throughout this entire Lamar Odom Saga. To be quite honest, that's simply because the saga doesn't exist. DexterFishmore has done a great job of keeping things light and in perspective, while also giving us a variety of entertaining angles from which to discuss this issue. But at the end of the day, there's simply no story here.

Lamar Odom hasn't signed a contract yet. He is a free agent. That's not a story; it's simply what any sane observer of this situation should have expected. Honestly, if you're looking for someone to add a serving of hype and spin this into a story, you've come to the wrong place. You've got ESPN and the LA Times for that.

Now, I know many of you are probably thinking, "What? This isn't a story?? This is the only thing that matters!" Click on through, and I'll explain exactly why it's really not the big deal everyone is making it out to be.

Perhaps it's technically incorrect to say that this is not a story. It would be more accurate to say that this isn't a story we didn't already know. Let me break it down for you.

Lamar Odom is a free agent. He is looking to sign a new contract. Regardless of who he signs with, negotiating is part of this process. The Lakers would like to keep him. Again, like every other player, negotiating is part of the process. The Lakers and Lamar Odom — as well as a couple other teams, to be sure — are in the middle of these negotiations. They are not yet complete.

Hey, look — that's pretty much the whole story, and it only took me a short paragraph!

The rest, quite frankly, is just hype. I know it all seems drastic and extreme, desperate and urgent, but it's really not. They've got the entire summer to negotiate, and each side has at least a couple moves to try before they come to an agreement.

Not convinced? Let me try and shed some light. I grew up in the third world, so I've had some experience with bartering — one of the most common forms of negotiation. Here in the United States, you go into a store, pick something up off the shelf, and pay the sticker price. Where I grew up, you find much of what you need in an open air market. You ask the price, and there's simply no way you intend to pay the vendor's initial quote (unless you're a tourist, in which case you're about to get ripped off).

The initial quote is almost always ridiculous. The more you show yourself to be a nice guy, the more true this is. If you come across as completely clueless — again, tourists are a great example — expect the initial price to be just completely absurd.

Now, negotiation is an art with all sorts of subtleties, but there are basic rules. In my mind, the most important ones go in this order:

  1. Don't piss off the other party. If you make him angry, he won't be interested in doing business with you at all. It's hard to negotiate with someone who doesn't want your business.
  2. Don't allow yourself to come across as unreasonable. If they think you're unreasonable, they won't see any point in talking to you. Again, hard to negotiate with someone who doesn't see the point of talking to you.
  3. Show just enough interest to let the other party know that you'll go for the right price, and not an ounce more. They need to know that you're willing to walk away. If they think you "have to have it," then they've got the leverage and can make you pay their price.

In any decently-conducted negotiation, someone walks away from the table at some point. It's a way of either exerting leverage or learning your opponent's limit. If you've pushed him as far as he'll go, he'll let you go. But if there's still room to gain some more ground, he'll call you back.

Another aspect of any good negotiation is the over-reaction. The idea is to act insulted, like the other party thinks you're a fool. The theory here is that by conveying to your opponent that you think he's being ridiculous, you'll get him to move some on his price. An exaggerated laugh, a disdainful snort — it's a way to let the other party know they need to make a better offer if you're even going to consider talking. Of course, the key here is not to overdo it. Remember, you don't want to piss the other party off. If he's offered a good price and you go too far in acting like it's absurd, he'll be insulted and will consider you unreasonable, and so much for negotiations.

Along the way, both parties attempt to reframe the discussion and bolster their position by making their case as to why they should get a better deal than is currently being offered. By informing the vendor that I wasn't a tourist, I let him know that I was aware of what the product was worth, expected a fair price, and wouldn't be taken. If I was buying several items, I might use that fact to get him to drop the overall price even more, since I was buying more. On his part, he might explain to me why he can't afford to give me the price I'm asking, claiming that he'd make no profit or telling me some story about his family. Maybe I believe it, maybe I don't.

NBA player contract negotiations are a far cry from third world open air market haggling, but all of this is essentially what is happening with Lamar Odom. The Lakers, if rumors are to be believed, started with a price far below what Odom is worth; they weren't being malicious, it's just smart business. They have to give themselves room to negotiate. Lamar's agent balked at the idea, and the Lakers gave. Having a sense of what Odom wanted — rumors in the area of 5 years at $10M per year — the Lakers made a counter offer.

At some point in the process, they did the equivalent of walking away, leaking to the media that they'd retracted the offer. Make no mistake — they want the product, and they weren't actually walking away. This was just their way of letting the Odom camp know they would need to give some.

Odom and his agent talked to a couple other teams, none of them able to offer more than the Lakers, with the rumor being that they were insulted by the Lakers' offer. But folks, this is all just part of the game. They were making a move, seeing how the Lakers would react. We're told that Lamar Odom later contacted Jerry Buss, so obviously he wasn't that offended by the negotiations. Why should he be? They're negotiations, it's how these things work!

The point here is that this is all completely normal. It's part of the process. If we reported on every step of the negotiation process between every team and every player, I would very quickly tire of covering the NBA. "Lamar Odom and the Lakers are in the process of negotiating Odom's new contract" is not news. It's SOP.

This brings us to all these rumors. Everything we know about these negotiations is rumors, and as such, completely unreliable. In my personal estimation, the nature of these rumors is such that they're hardly worth paying attention to. Remember when Ric Bucher assured us that Kobe Bryant would never play another game in a Lakers uniform? Yeah, we see how well that went. And frankly, that report had more substance than any of the rumors we've read thus far.

Ask yourself this: How have we acquired the information that we supposedly have about the negotiations? It was leaked by the parties actually involved. Now, you could take what they say and run with it, feeding the hype machine — or you could realize that what you're hearing isn't necessarily truth, it's just what they want you to hear. As Dex has pointed out, it's just the two parties using the media machine in their favor.

The problem is that the mainstream media takes every one of these tiny, unsubstantiated rumors and runs with it. They create this hype machine, and make no mistake, they do it quite deliberately. Why? Because it gets fans into a frenzy, and it drives up traffic, ratings, etc. But at the end of the day, hype is all it is.

My assumption is that you're not here for more hype. There's plenty of that available already. What you're here for is some original insight. You're here to read someone actually addressing the real issues, not just spinning up a hype machine to keep you coming back. You're interested in someone who's actually sticking to the actual story, not creating one of their own to play off your emotions as a passionate fan.

I'm not here to feed the hype machine, or even to be a part of it. If the hype is what you want, you can visit ESPN.com or LATimes.com for that. They've got more than enough hype to go around, and if they run out, they'll create some more.

But the actual story here is simply that there is no story. At least, none worth telling and re-telling, hashing and re-hashing, over and over again. Lamar Odom and the Lakers are in the middle of negotiations. It is a normal thing, and something they have plenty of time to complete. End of story.

If there are any significant developments, worthy of discussion, we'll definitely talk about them. But the simple fact is that the Lakers can offer Lamar Odom both a better contract (more money) and a better situation (championship contenders, playing in Los Angeles) than any other team. The negotiation process is simply intended to iron out the details.

When we actually know something about those details, we'll get into them. Until then, feel free to head over to the hype machines.

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