Mike Monroe: Now we know what caused Mavericks’ chemistry woes

While the Spurs surged to the top of the Western Conference standings in recent weeks, the Mavericks were sliding in the opposite direction.

The very day the Spurs eased past the Thunder and into first place by mere percentage points, the Mavericks were beaten on their home court by the 11th-place Trail Blazers and dropped into seventh.

Now we know what happened to befoul the chemistry that had been so important in Dallas last spring when a magical playoff run produced the Mavericks’ first NBA title.

It was Lamar Odom’s fault.

What other conclusion can be drawn from the decision by owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson to send Odom on an early vacation?

The Mavericks didn’t cut him or trade him, and they will pay the remainder of his $8.9 million salary for this season.

They simply told him they didn’t want him around any longer.

That is harsh reality, months in the making.

When commissioner David Stern nixed the trade that would have sent Chris Paul from the Hornets to the Lakers in December, many Lakers fans had mixed emotions.

Combining Paul with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum would have given Los Angeles a Big Three to rival Miami’s. But it would have come at the expense of the league’s longest frontline, one that had been dominant enough to produce two NBA titles.

Both 7-foot Pau Gasol and the 6-10 Odom, the 2010-11 Sixth Man Award winner, would have left the Lakers’ roster in the deal Stern refused to approve.

Stung by the knowledge his team had been willing to trade him, Gasol acknowledged hurt feelings. Then he went about playing power forward like an All-Star.

Odom didn’t get time to sort out his feelings. Just hours after the Paul trade was blown up, the Lakers sent him to the reigning champion Mavericks for a trade exception and a first-round draft pick that was protected through the first 20 selections in 2012.

Did Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak know something about Odom that made what seemed a great grab by the Mavericks something less? Had Odom’s fragile ego surfaced during his time with the Lakers?

The end of Odom in Dallas likely will improve the Mavericks. He had not been the skilled big man whose career averages of 14.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists invited comparisons to pre-injury Danny Manning. Or occasionally to Hall of Fame Lakers point guard Magic Johnson.

Instead, he put up the worst numbers of his career. Worse, he didn’t seem to care, and Mavs fans noticed. He was routinely booed when he entered recent games, including the Mavs-Spurs game in Dallas on March 17.

Cuban on Tuesday confirmed his halftime confrontation with Odom in the locker room in Memphis that prompted the banishment. It was the final straw after waiting for production that might have outweighed the distractions that Odom brought with him from L.A.

It may turn out to be the Spurs who benefit more from the Odom-to-Dallas trade than either team involved in the deal. Gregg Popovich always fretted about matching up against the Lakers’ length, and Odom was part of that.

Now the Lakers don’t have Odom, and the Mavericks must rediscover their own winning chemistry in the two-plus weeks that remain in the regular season.


Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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