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Odom Slips Through Free Agent Cracks:

As this article is written at the start of the week, Lamar Odom doesn’t have a contract and is slipping through the cracks in the National Basketball Association’s free agent setup.

Most likely he’ll have one before long, but it’s looking like Odom won’t get close to the amount he seeks.

Nobody would deny that he was a vital figure in the Lakers’ championship run, but the Lakers can’t pay him $12 million again or even the $10 million he seeks. They’re offering $7 million and the pay cut doesn’t excite him.

But as teams filled their slots, Odom’s options were reduced. San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson and added Antonio McDyess, Cleveland traded for Shaquille O’Neal, and the Lakers signed Ron Artest. Boston signed free agent Rasheed Wallace, Chicago signed Charlie Villenueva and Ben Gordon and Toronto took on Hedo Turkoglu.

The last contending team to have salary cap money was Portland, which lost out on Turkoglu but then made a $34 million multi-year offer to Paul Milsap, a strong rebounding restricted free agent who played this season for Utah. The Jazz are considering matching the offer, and if they do, Portland may spend its money on Odom.

Most NBA authorities I know believe the Trail Blazers should pursue Odom for two reasons. First, he would be another good player on a pretty fair team. Second, he wouldn’t be returning to the Lakers who would miss his important contributions.

But in the NBA’s system where financial restraints prevent teams from making all the moves they want somebody is often left out.

Odom is as good as most free agents who’ve been signed, but teams simply made other choices.

Throughout the season it was observed here and elsewhere the Lakers were going to have a dilemma. They were already paying $5 million to a luxury tax because their payroll exceeded the limit to avoid one. That figure has now reached $12 million for the coming season.

It was going to be difficult for the Lakers to bring back both Trevor Ariza and Odom. Well, they had enough for Ariza but decided to instead sign Artest and let Ariza leave.

The other choice was made at the start of the season when they signed youthful center Andrew Bynum to a $53 million deal. Once they did that they weren’t going to be able to sign Odom for the amount he wanted.

And when the economy became terrible there was another problem. Both the salary cap figure and threshold for the luxury tax were reduced. Both had gone up every year but once since 1984. It went down this time and probably will go down again one year from now.

If Odom doesn’t return, the Lakers will need Bynum to be more consistent. Essentially, they’ve gambled that he’ll be productive with increased playing time. They’re also gambling that Artest will do as much or more than Ariza did.

Artest gives them toughness and can relieve Kobe Bryant of some difficult defensive assignments. Although Artest and Bryant had some heated confrontations during the playoffs they’re friends who had talked in previous years about becoming teammates.

But Ariza shot 48 percent on three-pointers in the playoffs and it remains to be seen if Artest can contribute anything like that.

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