Friday, April 13, 2012

Lamar Odom – why contracts shouldn’t be guaranteed

Lamar Odom has been paid $24.6 million to play basketball for the last three NBA seasons. Odom played a key role in the Los Angeles Lakers 2010 NBA championship. Last year, Odom was selected as the NBA’s sixth man. Earlier this week, Odom was asked to leave the NBA team he played for this year.

On December 11, 2011, Odom was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a first-round draft pick and an $8.9 million trade exception after NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed a proposed three-team trade with the New Orleans Hornets involving Odom that would have sent him to the Hornets, Chris Paul to the Lakers, and Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets. Odom felt "disrespected" after he learned of the Hornets trade publicly, and he requested a trade from the Lakers to another contending team. Later that day, the Lakers traded Odom to the Dallas Mavericks – the defending NBA champions.

The Mavericks and Odom ended their relationship earlier this week. Instead of releasing him, the team listed Odom inactive for the remainder of the season. Odom and the Mavericks didn’t work. Odom missed three Mavericks games after the NBA All-Star break for what was called personal reasons. The Mavericks sent Odom to the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League on March 2. A day later, the Mavericks cancelled the move. On March 24, Odom did not play in a 104–87 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the first time he could remember not playing due to a coach's decision.

Odom’s Dallas career likely ended Saturday night during halftime of the Mavericks game in Memphis. Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban visited the teams’ locker room during halftime. Odom had arrived late for the Mavericks home game Friday night and again for a team meeting Saturday morning in Memphis.
Cuban had enough of Odom.

"Well, yeah," Cuban told ESPN Dallas when asked whether that exchange was the final straw. "Just his response to it. Everybody goes through ups and downs. Every player does. We tried to put him in a position to succeed. You guys saw it, saw what we did. It didn't work.

Odom is an interesting off-court case study in what can go wrong for a professional athlete if his focus is taken away from the sport he’s being paid to play. He’s married to reality television personality Khloé Kardashian. Their wedding was featured on the E! reality-based series Keeping Up with the Kardashians, on which Khloé is a regular, with Odom appearing in a handful of episodes. On December 29, 2010, E! announced that it was planning another spinoff from the series featuring Lamar, Khloé and his two children from his previous relationship. The new series debuted on April 10, 2011.

Last year Lakers management voiced their displeasure with the camera crews that constantly followed Odom around.

The circus followed Odom to Dallas. Cuban told the Fort Worth Star Telegram he didn’t believe the camera crew following Odom bothered his team; he did believe the cameras had a negative impact on Odom.

"I do think that if you know you're on camera all the time, you know you're on camera all the time.''

And what precisely what does that mean?

"That means you pay attention to how you're going to look on camera,'' Cuban said.” If you're high enough visibility, you know there's a camera on you all the time and that it's going to show up somewhere, and that can influence your behavior.''

Mark Cuban is a passionate team owner, an owner who loves his team. When he purchased the Mavericks, one of his first decisions was to buy a plane because he wanted his players to travel in comfort. Cuban attends most of his team’s games in Dallas, and when the team is on the road. He’s often seen sitting somewhere near the team’s bench cheering for his team. He wears his heart on his sleeve.

"Everybody goes through ups and downs,'' Cuban said in a Dallas Morning News report. “Every player does. We tried to put him in a position to succeed. It didn't work. And I just asked him, 'Does he want to go for it or not?' I just didn't get a commitment. And that was the end.

"You can kind of tell sometimes when a guy's not focused and ready to play. This [at Memphis] was a big game for us, and he wasn't connecting to that. And if you're not positive energy, you're negative energy.''

Cuban never shies away from speaking his mind – telling the media how he feels. The confrontation between Cuban and Odom on Saturday night wasn’t the first time the two had talked about his attitude.

“I decided to try to help him and turn it into a positive. In any deal, sometimes you're on the right end. Sometimes, you're on the wrong end.

"Did I get my money's worth? No. I don't know that the word's 'cheated.' But did I get my money's worth? No.''

There are many people who do not like professional athletes. Countless people see professional athletes as overpaid and underachieving people. Lamar Odom could be the poster-boy for why so many people dislike professional sports and athletes.

Charles Barkley, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, told ESPN Dallas 103.3's while he will always stand by the players as far as the TNT broadcaster is concerned, Odom shouldn’t be paid the remainder of his 2011-12 salary or the $2.4 million buy-out for the final year of his contract.

"I mean, because he didn't earn his salary. He didn't earn it at all. I like Lamar as a person, but I'm disappointed about everything that happened in Dallas. And it's a shame that the Mavs got to pay him, to be honest with you, because he doesn't deserve to get paid for what he put out there this year. He doesn't deserve it, plain and simple.

"To sit at home and make that kind of money really pisses me off, to be honest with you, for the effort that he put out there," Barkley said. "He's going to make hundreds of thousands of dollars these next two paychecks…That's not fair to the Mavs. It's not fair to the game of basketball. I'm just disappointed in Lamar."

If an NFL owner believed a member of his team had underachieved on the football field, that owner could release that player and he wouldn’t have to pay him. NFL player contracts are not guaranteed. NBA, NHL and MLB contracts are guaranteed.

During the recent NBA collective bargaining negotiations, there were suggestions NBA owners wanted to create contractual agreements along the lines of how the NFL operates. If that had taken place, Mark Cuban wouldn’t have to pay Odom the balance of his $8.2 million 2011-12 contract or the buyout he’ll be forced to pay Odom.

Lamar Odom embarrassed himself and NBA players. Even more important, he may one day serve as the reason why NBA players might find it difficult to have their contracts guaranteed.

For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom

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