Odom returns to the Lakers

It's a really busy day in the LA sports world, and it only got busier today with Lamar Odom re-signing with the Lakers. I have no idea what took so long, but I'm glad that it all worked out in the end.

Some Laker fans have been saying that the team doesn't need Lamar Odom, but I disagree. While Odom's inconsistency can be maddening on some nights, he creates mismatches on the floor, and he's another big body to rebound. If Andrew Bynum is 100% healthy, doesn't get injured again, and plays his absolute best every night of the season, then the Lakers are fine without Odom. But we still don't know what Bynum will wind up becoming, so Odom's presence on the floor is almost required if the Lakers are to remain a championship team.

I have a firm belief that the Lakers need 3 superstar-level performances on a given night to beat elite NBA teams. They will get one from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol almost every game. During the playoffs, Trevor Ariza or Lamar Odom would provide that necessary third performance with Derek Fisher of course saving the day in Game 4 of the Finals.

Ron Artest is a considerable upgrade over Ariza, and he can provide that third offensive superstar performance that the Lakers need. But his impact will mostly be felt on the defensive end of the floor, so it will help to have Odom out there as well.

I'm sure Odom is disappointed that he's making less than $10 million a year. I can also understand his disappointment in not starting, even though he'll be on the floor late in games. But I think Odom recognized that LA provided the best situation for him, both from a financial standpoint (because of the salary cap) and a basketball standpoint (the opportunity to win more titles).

I know Laker fans were worried throughout the process, but overall I think this was well-played by the Lakers organization. Fans like to say that Jerry Buss "should just spend the money", but it's more complicated than that. Last year the Lakers had a payroll in the high-$70 million range and had to pay some luxury tax. This year, with Odom now signed, I believe the Lakers payroll will check in around the low-$90 million range.

With a dollar-for-dollar tax on payroll above the estimated $70 million threshold, the Lakers will actually be spending over $110 million on player personnel in 2009-10. That's an increase of roughly $25 million in costs from last year to this year. It's hard for any team to add $25 million in costs in this economy, and the Lakers are no exception. One has to wonder how the Lakers will afford those increased costs. The team already sells out every game, and they did not raise ticket prices this past year. It remains to be seen if the team will raise prices this year. This is a particularly difficult time for sponsors in all of sports, and I would be surprised if the Lakers sponsorship revenue went up dramatically. The Lakers still receive some revenue sharing money from merchandising and the league-wide TV deal, but that won't change much. The team has a new radio deal with 710 ESPN, so that will provide some extra revenue, but radio contracts are not usually huge. The team also gets extra revenue from hosting postseason games, but going deep into the playoffs is almost an annual expectation in Lakerland.

So while I've never seen the Lakers balance sheet, my guess is that the organization and Jerry Buss will take something of a financial hit this season in order to give the team it's best possible chance of winning a title. When fans say that Jerry Buss is one of the best owners in all of sports, it's decisions like this that explain why. The Lakers had to play some hardball in their negotiations with Odom, but ultimately knew they had leverage, and now will be the odds-on favorite to repeat.

While the Celtics added Rasheed Wallace, the Spurs traded for Richard Jefferson, the Cavs acquired Shaq, and the Magic got Vince Carter, I think the Lakers are still the best team in the NBA having improved by effectively swapping Ariza for Artest and returning everyone else. I see the Lakers and Portland being the two best teams in the Western Conference next season, and my money would be on the Celtics outlasting the Cavs in the East. So my early prediction is Lakers over Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.

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