The Knicks announced on Wednesday that the team had agreed to sign veteran forward Lamar Odom for the remainder of the season. Odom’s contract, as clarified by Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, also includes a second season of non-guaranteed salary.
The move — New York’s first formal order of business under new management — came just before the bell tolled on a disappointing season. If the timing seems curious that’s because it is; a recent back injury forced Odom to duck out of a deal with Baskonia, a team in the Spanish ACB League, and that same ailment (among other factors) will keep him sidelined in the Knicks’ final, meaningless game. There would be no reason at all to add Odom for that game anyway, making his acquisition at this late date all the more intriguing.
The Knicks’ real motivation: The non-guaranteed second season through which New York will have the option to retain Odom for the 2014-15 campaign. By signing him now the Knicks have effectively sidestepped all of the league’s rules regarding offseason contact between teams and free agents as they relate to Odom. He is a Knick for all intents and purposes even without logging a single minute, which in this case gives Jackson and team officials the very important means to gauge Odom’s injury status and frame of mind in the months to come.
The latter is an unfortunate but necessary concern given Odom’s recent history with NBA teams. It’s now been three years since Odom was in anything resembling fine basketball form. Since then, Odom disengaged completely during his season with the Mavs (despite the team’s best efforts to accommodate him), showed up to camp with the Clippers well over playing weight, was checked in and out of rehab for a drug problem and pled no contest to DUI charges.
A back injury is the least of his worries; Odom is long removed from the best years of his NBA career at this point, as he hasn’t been in a place where he could successfully live up his end of a contract. The Knicks clearly have some hope that Odom might stabilize in that regard, likely in part due to his long-lasting relationship with Jackson — Odom’s former coach during his most effective seasons.
Should Odom fail to meet New York’s standards, his potential signing will have been a mere formality. Non-guaranteed deals can be functionally wiped away with just a bit of paperwork, leaving the Knicks with very little risk in such an arrangement. If Odom is able to contribute, though, he could help ease New York into the triangle offense after his years of experience initiating it as a Laker. When committed, Odom is a versatile two-way player that any team would be lucky to have at a bargain salary.
That best-case scenario is one worth investing some time and effort in, no matter how unlikely it may be. New York’s hands are otherwise tied. Deep pockets can only get a capped-out team so far in the modern NBA; there are punitive and preventative measures built into the collective bargaining agreement to keep the richest teams from spending freely, forcing high-spending teams to get creative in both the kinds of players they sign and the contracted terms they sign them to. Trying out Odom over an extended term before he ever suits up for the Knicks is a means to do just that. This isn’t a home run swing with real assets at stake. It’s a value play at the bottom of the market — a vital arena from which the Knicks have been long absent.