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With rumors surfacing over the last few weeks regarding a potential return to the Los Angeles Lakers for veteran forward Lamar Odom, there is one technicality that might end up making the reunion between the two sides nothing more than an unrealistic fantasy for Lakers fans.
That would be the NBA’s new rule that prohibits players from returning to their old teams as free agents less than a calendar year after that team has dealt them away in a trade.
As the postseason embarks upon its final stage, many have probably forgotten about the messy labor dispute that was not resolved until December, thus shortening the regular season campaign to a compacted 66 game schedule.
Once the new collective bargaining agreement was finally agreed upon, this new rule concerning the actual freedom of these free agents was implemented so that they would not simply be able to negotiate buyouts of their contracts with their new teams – as they so often did in salary cap-based trades – and rejoin their previous squad only a month later.
In a move that was heavily scrutinized at the time, the Lakers traded Odom to the Dallas Mavericks on December 11th for a first round draft pick. Los Angeles would go on to send that pick to the Houston Rockets at the trade deadline in the deal that gave them long-time Laker guard Derek Fisher in exchange for forward Jordan Hill.
Odom, 32, immediately demanded that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak trade him after Commissioner David Stern rescinded a blockbuster three-team deal between the Lakers, Rockets and the then-owned New Orleans Hornets that would have had him playing in the Big Easy.
Plagued by a rough offseason filled with personal issues that were non-basketball related, Odom did not appear to give the Mavs a whole-hearted effort this season. Averaging only 6.6 points per game, he had the worst scoring season of his career and was deactivated by Dallas with about a month remaining.
Having been a Laker since being acquired from the Miami Heat in the 2004 Shaquille O’Neal trade, many believe that Odom left his heart in Los Angeles, which may have also played a major role in his dreadful stint with the defending world champion Mavs.
The popular belief is that Dallas will buy out Odom sometime this month for $2.4 million, making him an unrestricted free agent. But despite the fact that he would be eligible to return to the Lakers on December 11th – that is, if the chatter is true and both sides are willing to try things out again – sources close to Odom say he would not be willing to miss about six weeks of action leading up to then, which would shut the door on the discussion before it could ever even really open.
In seven seasons with the Lakers, Odom averaged 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in his final season with the team and was also a major contributor to their back-to-back NBA Finals victories over the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics in 2009 and 2010, respectively.