It’s a good thing July is one of those months with 31 days in it.
Finally, mercifully and somewhat predictably, the protracted negotiations between the Lakers and free-agent forward Lamar Odom came to a happy conclusion Thursday afternoon, before the calendar flipped to another month.
Lakers spokesman John Black confirmed that the team had agreed in principle with the free agent power forward who averaged 12.3 points and 9.1 rebounds during the post-season, as the Lakers won their 15th NBA title.
That was June 14. Odom became an unrestricted free agent at midnight on July 1st.
It took nearly all of July for the two sides to come to terms on a contract a source with knowledge of the negotiations said was worth between $32-33 million over four seasons, with the first $27 million and three seasons guaranteed.
“We’ve said from the end of the season when we had exit interviews that signing Lamar was a priority of ours,” Black said. “The process took 30 days. It was a long and arduous process, but all’s well that ends well. We’re very happy to have him back.”
Black could not comment on the specifics of the deal. Odom’s agent Jeff Schwartz did not return messages left on his cell phone.
Odom revealed a little of his sentiments via his Twitter feed late Thursday afternoon: “I’M BAAAAAACK!!!!,” Odom wrote.
Fans that had nervously followed the negotiations the past month — as Odom toyed with the idea of returning to the Miami Heat — flocked to the popular social networking site.
The word “Odom” became one of the top trending topics on the site. A fact that did not go unnoticed by Odom.
“Phone is going crazy but I think my friends are more excited about me being a top trending topic,” he tweeted.
Odom made $11.4 million last season, but said at the end of the season he was willing to take a pay cut to remain with the Lakers.
Still, negotiations between the team and Odom did not go smoothly. Two weeks ago, he did not respond to the team’s offers of three years and $30 million or four years and $36 million. The fourth year of that deal was a team-option.
Frustrated, the Lakers pulled both offers and were prepared to walk away.
The team is well over the dollar-for-dollar luxury-tax threshold of $69.92 million with approximately $91.7 million committed for next season. That figure can be cut to $90.9 million if the team does not invite guard Sun Yue back before Friday’s deadline.
With the luxury-tax penalty of either $21.8 million (with Yue) or $21 million (without Yue), the Lakers’ payroll would be approximately $113.4 million or $112 million.
That was a tremendously difficult financial pill for Lakers owner Jerry Buss to swallow. For days he wondered whether it was better to just let Odom leave and see if newly-acquired Ron Artest and a healthy Andrew Bynum could fill the void.
In the end, Buss’ competitive nature won out. With Odom the Lakers are a heavy favorite to repeat as champions. Without him, they are vulnerable.
Other contenders have added key pieces this offseason. Boston signed power forward Rasheed Wallace. Cleveland traded for Shaquille O’Neal. Orlando traded for Vince Carter and the San Antonio Spurs traded for Richard Jefferson.
A source close to Odom said he had an emotional reaction to the Lakers’ initial stance and seriously considered the Miami Heat’s five-year, $34 million offer.
His agent Jeff Schwartz encouraged him to keep emotion out of the decision and consider the financial picture the Lakers faced, as well as bleak predictions for the the league economy.
Odom reached out to Buss, during the Lakers’ owner’s vacation Hawaii to try and smooth things out, which went a long way, a source said.
Still, it took another two weeks for the sides to come to terms.
As of late Thursday night, Odom had not officially signed his new contract. He is expected to do so sometime this morning.
Now that Odom has been retained, the Lakers are expected to begin contract extension talks with Kobe Bryant.