Lamar Odom walked away from the Dallas Mavericks this weekend.
Though he is still a member of the team, the Mavs will list him as inactive for the rest of the year, and will either buy him out before his salary hurts the team's cap room or trade him on draft day. Odom finished the season with the worst stats of his career, notching 6.6 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game in little over 20 minutes per.
When a former Sixth Man of the Year and integral part of two championship teams fades away in such a dramatic fashion, it's natural to wonder what, or who, is to blame.
In the case of Lamar Odom, the answer is easy.
It's everyone's fault.
If this was a divorce, the stated reason would almost certainly be "irreconcilable differences," but there isn't enough room on that line to explain a decline of this magnitude. There are several reasons for the Odom-Mavs trial separation, and no one is safe from blame.
Lets begin with the Lakers.
The Lakers traded Odom twice, but only one of those trades was a mistake. The first trade would have sent out Odom and Pau Gasol for Chris Paul in a three-team deal. At the time, point guard was the Lakers' only glaring need. Losing Odom and Gasol would have hurt their length, but they would have survived with Paul, Kobe Bryant, and Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup. This was probably the correct move. Unfortunately, the mistake the Lakers made was letting Odom's unhappiness affect their decisions.
When a player hears that he may be traded, his feelings get hurt, and it's only natural that emotions are involved in situations such as these. But when a player's feelings are hurt, there are ways to address it.
The owner, manager, or coach can talk with the player to cheer him up. They can try to assure the player that basketball is a business, and the professional thing to do would be to suit up and give it your all. They could have even sent him flowers. Or candy, knowing how much Lamar Odom is addicted to Now and Laters.
The Lakers didn't appear to do any of these things.
Instead, they shipped him out to Dallas, a place he reportedly wanted to go, for a trade exception. The mistake was not only the trade, but what they got in return, which was basically a candy bar. The cash-strapped Lakers wanted to move his salary more than they wanted him on the roster.
So Odom was probably upset for two reasons. First, he was disrespected in what the Lakers received in trade value, which was basically a candy bar. Second, Odom probably would have wanted to eat that candy bar. All in all, it was the Lakers' fault for mishandling an already poorly-handled situation even worse and sending Odom packing.
When he arrived in Dallas, there was much optimism on how he would be used. He was expected to fortify a bench that had lost valuable players such as DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea. But then the season started, and it was clear that Odom wasn't thriving. He only scored double-digits in five of his first 20 games while shooting an abysmal 34.7 percent from the field. Odom performed much worse than he was capable of.
But how is this Dallas's fault?
An article on ESPN Dallas covering the separation claims that Odom never had a clearly defined role on the team. And if you look at Dallas's rotation, and you look at Odom's skillset, it appears clear that it is Dallas's fault for not adjusting things.
In the article, Bryant is quoted as saying the Mavericks are "set," which would mean something if the Mavericks weren't at the bottom half of the playoff standings. Odom can play two positions equally well due to his length and athleticism; he should be responsible for spelling both Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion when they need rest or are in foul trouble. He can be the point forward on the court when they want to play with length and pair him with Jason Kidd or Rodrigue Beaubois in the backcourt.
With a player as versatile as Lamar Odom, it's not hard to find a find him a role. Something had to be done to adjust the rotation in his favor. Whether it's Carlisle's stubbornness, or something else entirely, Odom is a rare NBA player who can be productive at different positions.
Of course, a player has to want to play those different roles. And that's where the third person to blame emerges: Odom himself.
Odom has had a difficult year off the court. His cousin was murdered last summer, and a few days later he was a passenger in a vehicle that crashed into a motorcycle, killing a pedestrian.
The aforementioned article says that Odom didn't work out during the lockout. So it's possible that Odom would have struggled this year no matter whom he played for. Odom was known to be inconsistent from time to time with the Lakers, so it's possible that Odom lets his mood affect his play. And this year was a bad one for that trend to continue, because of all of the personal life issues he dealt with.
Part of what people love about sports superstars is that they are able to overcome obstacles. It's why Michael Jordan's Game Five in the '97 Finals against the Jazz, known as the Flu Game, is just as memorable as the shot he hit to win Game Six. It's why people remember Brett Favre's legendary Monday Night Football performance after the death of his father.
Seeing athletes overcome adversity is what drives admiration and respect. And as terrible as the things that Odom went through last summer, people expect a player to try to overcome those things and continue their greatness. And if they can't...well, things like this happen.
Odom's story shouldn't be done yet. He is a year removed from winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award. He will likely work harder to get back into shape for next season, and some team will take a chance on him. But when he does get another chance, he, his new team, and everyone involved, have to make sure that everything goes right for him.
Because we've seen this year what happens when everything goes wrong.