When it comes to Lamar Odom, Mark Cuban has little patience for political correctness.
"Just put him in the Tariq Abdul-Wahad category and move on." Mavericks fans will remember Abdul-Wahad for his unprecedented two-year stint on the injured reserve after having been ostracized from the team. "We hope it's addition by subtraction," Cuban added.
Will the subtraction of Odom from the Mavericks' plans work out? A modest three-game winning streak appears to hold promising views of the future. Ultimately, freeing up more time at the power forward and small forward positions may actually have paid dividends in helping coach Rick Carlisle tighten up the Mavericks' rotations.
The first major difference involves the use of Vince Carter. With Dirk Nowitzki at power forward, Odom's playing time was left for paltry backup minutes behind Nowitzki or to spell Shawn Marion at small forward. As a result, he spent the majority of his minutes at small forward, which shifted the 35-year-old Carter to time at shooting guard. However, this created problems. Odom, out of his comfort zone, languished with his time operating farther away from the basket in the Mavericks' flow offense. It also designated Carter for attacking and defending younger and more agile opposing shooting guards, which played a factor in his noticeable drop off in effectiveness after the All-Star break. With Odom gone, Carter has seen more minutes at the 3, which has allowed his aging frame to keep pace with the larger wings. Carter's shift to coming off the bench has also allowed Delonte West more opportunities as a starter at shooting guard. His stalwart defense and shot-making abilities have been key in getting the Mavericks to hot starts against the Warriors and Trailblazers, as the Mavericks outscored their opponents 57-36 in the 1st quarter of both games.
The next fundamental difference lies in the vacated backup minutes behind power forward. These have gone mainly to Brandan Wright, whose production has come as a pleasant surprise to the organization and fans of high-flying feats of athleticism. His statlines of 16 points and 9 rebounds against the Warriors, followed by 13 points and 8 rebounds against the Trailblazers, represent production Odom rarely approached in his time with the Mavericks. Wright's quickness, shot-blocking presence, and finesse around the rim is unequaled on the roster and appears to play an important role in the home stretch.
It may be romantic to presume that the departure of Lamar Odom removed a pall of apathy from the Mavericks locker room and finally allowed the players to focus. And perhaps Mark Cuban was referring to that intangible essence with his comments. But when it comes down to the concrete impacts, Odom's absence might be just what the doctor ordered for the Mavericks' championship title defense.