Twenty-four hours after the Lakers reportedly broke up with Lamar Odom because he wasn't returning their texts fast enough and he's been flirting with other girls, including that total bitch Pat Riley, little more is known about his NBA future. Unfounded and often contradictory speculation has been the order of the day in hoops media circles, with varying reports about what exactly the Lakers offered him, whether he was given an explicit deadline to accept, and whether he or his agent is holding up a deal. It's enough to make you long for the days of the comparatively smooth Trevor Ariza negotiations.
The latest I've seen from from Mark Stein of ESPN is that agreement was reached between the two parties on a $9 million annual salary, but talks broke down over the Lakers' refusal to extend the contract length beyond three seasons. Stein's colleague Ric Bucher backs him up on that and earlier today Tweeted the following:
It's like this: Phil wants him, but LO has to make nice w/Dr. Buss, who's ticked LO didn't jump at what Buss sees as a generous offer.
Two things, in any event, are becoming increasingly clear to me:
(1) Jerry Buss is, if you believe the reports, taking all of this way too personally, and
(2) Jeff Schwartz, Lamar's agent, is really, really bad at public relations.
It would be unfortunate if Dr. Buss were in fact allowing personal emotions to drive the negotiations. To begin with, it's bad business. Either Lamar is worth $27 million over three years to the Lakers, or he's not. And if he is, it doesn't matter whether it takes three hours or three weeks to get the deal done. If he's willing to sign that contract, you sign it. Championship rings have a way of dissipating any lingering resentment between player and team - am I right, Kobe?
Also, Dr. Buss should consider that perhaps Lamar didn't "jump at" his offer because the Lakers didn't exactly jump at making it. Six days ago, we were told that the Lakers had offered something "within a million or two" of the $5.8 million mid-level exception. Then we heard that the offer was "a little north of $8 million." Now, apparently, it's $9 million. So clearly, the Lakers didn't come roaring out of the gate with their highest, best offer. They tried to squeeze Lamar a bit, hoping to get the best possible deal out of him. That's perfectly fine. But once you've gone down that road, you forfeit the right to be self-righteous when your counterparty does the same.
That said, I remain not at all convinced that Dr. Buss is indeed personally upset with Lamar. He's an experienced contract negotiator - he's been to this particular rodeo too many times with too many players not to understand that on both sides, it's just business. I continue to believe that he's leaking reports of his displeasure as a way to light a fire under Lamar and his agent, with the goal of getting a deal done post haste.
Speaking of Lamar's agent, the estimable Mr. Schwartz could learn a thing or two from Scott Boras. This past winter, Boras and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt tangled publicly over free agent Manny Ramirez, with McCourt at one point declaring that the parties would "start from scratch" after Manny failed to accept the Dodgers' offer. McCourt even took the unusual step of issuing a press release announcing the suspension of negotiations. It was kind of a dickish move, but aside from an absence of subtlety, it wasn't a materially different tactic from Dr. Buss's media leaks in the ongoing Odom saga.
Boras, unlike Jeff Schwartz so far, knew he couldn't let the media battle be a one-sided affair. He issued his own account of the negotiations in a press release and, while the whole thing became tiresome and unsavory, he at least defended his client. Schwartz needs to start running the same play, because for the time being his client is being portrayed as greedy and petulent, when in fact he's simply exercising collectively bargained rights to free agency.
Postscript: Keep an eye on Utah, which has two more days to decide whether to match Portland's offer to restricted free agent Paul Millsap. If they do match, expect the Blazers to enter the Lamar bidding. Whee!