EL SEGUNDO, CA - MAY 31: Jim Buss, executive vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, listens to Lakers new coach Mike Brown's speach during his introductory news conference at the team's training facility on May 31, 2011 in El Segundo, California. Brown replaced Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who retired at the end of this season. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
EDIT: The Odom-to-Dallas trade is yet to be official, with Marc Stein reporting only that "The Lakers informed the league-owned Hornets and the Rockets they were pulling out of the deal, sources said, because they had reached an agreement with the Dallas Mavericks to trade Lamar Odom to the reigning champions."
EDIT EDIT: Woj says it's happened, which is good enough for me.
It was said soon after the news of the new CBA that the ensuing condensed free agent period would be one of the craziest in history; and it has most definitely failed to disappoint. Obviously, the sheer ludicrousness of David Stern (egged on by his quivering lackeys) going Imperator on the Hornets has to take the cake, and the irony of signings such as that of Tyson Chandler's 4-year $56 million contract highlighting the ludicrousness in hindsight of the lockout is both frustrating and vindicating; however now this free agent period has moved into a new level of weirdness for us Laker fans as well.
The move to pull Chris Paul, whilst garnering some debate about its short-run basketball benefits, was characteristically Laker in nature: quick, shrewd, professional, and bringing in a star player of the type fans drool over. For all the criticism thrown at Jim Buss of late, the move seemed to indicate business as usual for the Lakers. Unfortunately, Stern decided to nix the deal in a pathetic display of sheer pettiness on the part of both him and owners such as embittered Dan Gilbert (funny that he has been named as one of the most vocal protestors against the deal, considering that it is likely that if he had made such nature of a deal when he was in Demps' situation, he could have salvaged the remnants of his team).
The vetoing of the deal was an epic display of crassness, bad faith and blatant dishonesty: the Hornets had been previously told the League would stay out of their basketball workings and that they were allowed to make a deal, only for this to be reversed as soon as a workable and, according to general consensus, solid deal was formed with the Lakers as the recipients of Mr. Paul. This cancellation of the deal conveniently occurred after the ratification of the new CBA, instead of such an issue being put to negotiation as other basketball related issues were. A dictatorial utilisation of executive power in order to enforce the 'have your cake and eat it too' mentality of the ownership and commissioner's office evident throughout CBA negotiations; this action doubtless decimated the internal workings of these teams, with Lamar Odom and Chris Paul not showing at training camp and Pau Gasol also voicing some extent of displeasure. However, this was not the fault of any of the teams involved, the blame lays solely at the feet of the Commissioner.
What's happening now, however, the recently reported trade of Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for naught but a trade exception, is most definitely an unexpected reaction by Laker front office staff. Of course, this trade is not yet official, but Marc Stein is a reasonably credible journalist and considering his position as core ESPN reporter it would be unwise to not take heed of what he is saying. It's almost a 'so crazy it must be true' scenario; there's no way he'd report such a thing without being truly certain. (Edit: Woj says it's happened, which is good enough for me.)
On the Lakers' part, is it brilliance, or insanity? Obviously Odom was far from happy to return to the Lakers after hearing of the Lakers' attempts to trade him, refusing to show up to training and likely feeling betrayed, but that alone does not justify trading a Sixth Man of the Year and borderline-All Star to the defending champions for a trade exception.
ESPN LA's Brian Kamenetzky muses that
I find it impossible to believe the Lakers would make this move without having the dominoes lined up. Or at least without having purchased a package of dominoes, with a really, really good idea of how they'd like to line them up. Remember, they're handing Odom to the team eliminating them from last season's playoffs. It strengthens the Mavericks, a team that just lost Tyson Chandler and will soon lose J.J. Barea.
The only way the Lakers throw Mark Cuban a life preserver is if they believe the payoff is worth it.
and it goes without saying that there is a grander game afoot, with the stakes being the future of the Lakers. The attempt to trade Pau and Lamar for CP3 cement the previously-fermenting school of thought that Jim Buss was well and truly attempting to blow up the previous Laker dynasty in order to reload and/or rebuild for the future, something that I perhaps agree with (conditional, of course, on the right deals being made). The Lakers odds' were shrinking, not growing, with age. The Lakers need youth, both to have a future core and to give Kobe help in the present, and Chris Paul was a viable short and long term option.
Now that the Commissioner has shot that down once, and would have likely done so again, it seems the Lakers; never one to rest on their laurels, are quickly moving on. The cat's out of the bag, now, the Lakers of 2008-2011 can be no more. The question is, what is the future? The most obvious option remaining is Dwight Howard, who loves LA and has been looking for a trade. He has stated a preference for the Nets, but somehow I doubt he would feel too badly about suiting up in the Purple and Gold.
Or the Lakers could go elsewhere. This is the team that pulled Pau Gasol out of a hat, after all. The evident-in-hindsight balance of the trade notwithstanding, it certainly wasn't an expected, or even thought to be possible move to flip Kwame Brown and the rights to a then-overweight and unknown Euro big man for an established All Star Power Forward. Maybe we end up with Durant, Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, who knows? Unlikely, but not impossible.
All this notwithstanding, the point of no return has now been crossed, not just emotionally but practically, with the trade of Lamar. A bold move, a risk worthy of Jim Buss' poker veteran father, essentially giving away one of their key players to the very team that knocked us out of the Playoffs the prior year. The Lakers have gone all-in; if more moves aren't made whatever chance they had of winning the Championship this year have been traded away with Lamar. Blowing up solely for future investment isn't a likely course, not with Kobe's age. There has to be a plan in effect, one that every Lakers fan and staff member better damn well hope works.
It's said that the difference between brilliance and insanity is simply a matter of perspective, that one man's lunatic is another's genius. Me, I can't help but think that the results play a part. An insane ploy may prove to be brilliant - if it works. If not, catastrophe for the Laker franchise.
With Jerry Buss having recently been hospitalised for blood clots, it's evident whose decision this was. This is Jim Buss' moment of truth - a truly insane gamble. Within the next few days we'll know if he's as brilliant, if not more, than his father, or simply the incompetent and foolish prat many of us had labelled him as previously. And the Lakers' future hangs in the balance.