Odom was dreadful, but so was Mavs’ front office.
By: Dustin Dietz
The Dallas Mavericks arduous journey to the top of the NBA mountain last summer was one of the more unexpected championship runs not just in DFW sports history, but in the history of the NBA. Before the 2011 playoffs, Dirk Nowitki and the Mavs were known by many for their inexplicable playoff failures of the past. The 2006 NBA Finals debacle against the Miami Heat, and the embarrassing loss to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of 2007 playoffs come to mind.
The 2010-2011 Mavericks rid themselves of their past playoff demons, and put to rest all of the expert’s beliefs that this team was incapable of winning a championship with Dirk Nowitzki as the team’s leader. Many, including myself, thought the Mavs would lose in the 1st round to the Portland Trail Blazers. After a devastating loss in Game 4 in the Rose Garden, a game in which the Mavs held an 18 point lead going into the fourth, the Mavs’ doubters appeared to be correct in their assumption this team didn’t have the ability to win a title.
What happened after Game 4 in the first round can only be described as remarkable. The Mavs would win Games 5 and 6 against the Blazers, sweep the mighty Lakers in the second round, defeat Kevin Durant’s Thunder in five games in the Western Conference Finals, and sleigh the evil dragon known as the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
After years of playoff failures by the four major professional sports franchises, the Mavericks gave DFW the area’s first major professional sports championship this millennium. The city embraced the NBA champions with a parade in Victory Plaza which culminated with Dirk Nowitzki singing, “We Are the Champions” to a raucous AAC crowd.
The NBA lockout hit before the Maverick’s championship tour even ended. The team had several key players from the championship team which were entering free agency. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson had to decide whether or not to spend the money to retain fan favorites Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, and Caron Butler, or let them sign with another franchise to provide the team with financial flexibility in the summer of 2012 to have the opportunity to sign former The Colony High School product Deron Williams and Orland Magic center Dwight Howard.
When the lockout ended in December, the Mavs’ front office chose to let the four before mentioned free agents sign with other teams in order to have the financial flexibility so many teams covet. The most difficult loss to endure was Chandler, the man many felt was the heart and soul of the Mavericks championship team. Chandler was the tough, gritty, demonstrative center the franchise had been searching for throughout the franchise’s history. Rather than resign the 29 year old Chandler to a reasonable price of four years and $58 million dollars, the Mavericks chose to roll the dice on signing potential 2012 free agent center Dwight Howard. Howard is only three years younger than Chandler, and has caused numerous issues with head coach Stan Van Gundy during his time with the Magic. Plus, Chandler had just helped the Mavs win a ring, and really wanted to continue to play in Dallas. The move merits some bit of questioning considering how much Chandler was admired by fans and members within the organization, including Dirk Nowitzki. After the Magic and Howard agreed to exercise Howard’s 2012-2013 option before this past trade deadline, the move looks even more foolish.
To offset the losses of Chandler, Barea, Stevenson, Butler, and the retired Peja Stojakovic, the club signed Vince Carter, Delonte West, Brandan Wright, and traded for the enigmatic 2010-2011 sixth man of the year Lamar Odom. West and Wright have provided spark to the club, Carter has been decent with at least inspired effort, but the Odom trade has been a complete and utter disaster.
Odom went through what can be described as a tumultuous and horrifying off season after the Lakers were swept by the Mavs last May. Odom’s cousin was murdered, and Odom was a passenger in an SUV accident in which a teen cyclist was killed. Odom even admitted to falling out of shape after the traumatic events during the prolonged NBA lockout.
One can understand and sympathize with a man who experiences such unfortunate trauma, but to fall out of shape is inexcusable. Odom is a professional athlete. His job is to stay in shape and perform while earning millions of dollars.
Shortly after the lockout ended, Odom was part of a trade which sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. When the NBA blocked the trade, Odom demanded a trade from the Lakers after he felt disrespected by their organization. The Lakers did find a trade partner in the Mavericks, receiving a future 1st round selection from the Mavs in exchange for the sullen reality television star. The trade was a deal many felt was a steal considering the Mavs were receiving the reigning sixth man of the year for a draft pick the Mavs are notorious for not taking serious anyways.
The deal now can only be considered a ‘steal’ for the Lakers as the Odom’s play has been nothing short of abysmal the entire season. Odom has posted career lows in all statistical categories during his time in Dallas, and has displayed a lack of effort only seen by clueless children during tee-ball games.
Odom mysteriously left the team in February to tend to an ‘ailing’ father while his wife Khloe was on The Tonight Show in Los Angeles, was sent down to the D-League Texas Legends (Odom never played for the Legends), and reportedly asked for a contract buyout in late February. Yet, the Mavs continued to play the man who perpetually displayed apathy and a lack of desire to be with the Mavs.
Mark Cuban referred to The Ticket hosts during the recent Ticketstock in February as ‘idiots’ for referring to Lamar Odom’s play as less than inspiring. Now, Mark Cuban looks like the idiot. One can easily blame Lamar Odom for his career lows of 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. However, I choose to blame the Mavs’ front office, and especially Mark Cuban for this catastrophe.
Cuban was the man who decided to let all of his free agents walk and trade for Odom after failing to do his due diligence on a player the mighty Lakers oddly no longer wanted. The front office decided continuing to play Odom was a wise move, despite an obvious lack of effort and cancerous affect on the franchise. Everyone with a basketball IQ could see Lam Lam never wanted to be part of this franchise, which is perplexing considering the Mavericks are the defending NBA champions. Dallas is not exactly NBA Siberia.
I cannot imagine Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wanted to continue to play Odom. Carlisle is a man who demands effort, and wants his players to show enthusiasm on the floor. After Saturday night’s atrocious effort in Memphis by Odom, Carlisle did not even want to speak to reporters about Odom. When asked about Odom’s play after the loss Saturday night, Dirk finished his locker room interview with an indignant, “I’m done talking about that.”
The only thing which makes any sense to me as to why the Mavs continued to play Odom was The Cubes did not want to admit failure on the December trade. Mark has a propensity to defend players, even when the player is obviously dogging it. Despite Mark continuing to have Odom’s back during this horrific stretch of play, Odom never played inspired ball for the Mavs. After Odom went scoreless in four minutes in Memphis on Saturday night, the organization had had enough.
On Monday morning, the Mavs and Odom came to an agreement Odom would be deactivated the rest of this season. Lamar will likely be bought out during the off season, which will cost the Mavs $2.4 million dollars. The 31-26 Mavericks, just one game in front of Phoenix for the last playoff spot, hope Odom’s subtraction is an addition.
Blaming Lamar Odom and his lackluster play for the Mavs’ struggles during this season is the low hanging fruit for one to grab at. The real reason the Mavericks have been struggling to defend their NBA championship this season is due to the poor decisions made before and during the strike shortened NBA season by the front office.
The front office chose not to resign Tyson Chandler. The front office chose not to resign Caron Butler and JJ Barea. The front office traded for Lamar Odom. And, the front office chose to continue to play Odom. The Mavs front office is as much to blame for Odom and the team’s poor play as Odom is.
If the Mavericks fail to make the playoffs, the 2011 off season should be viewed as one of the more obvious cases of mismanagement in DFW sports history. The only chance Cuban and the front office would have for redemption is to land Deron Williams, and or Dwight Howard. If the franchise cannot land a big free agent, it poignantly may be time to hit the franchise reset button and start over.
Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18 .