Butler, Odom, Grant try best to help Lakers

Updated: March 18, 2005, 12:44 AM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- A year ago, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant were playing key roles in the resurgence of the Miami Heat, helping a midseason transformation from cellar-dweller to playoff contender.

And while Miami has continued to soar this season, running away with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the trio of former Heat players are simply trying to help the Los Angeles Lakers claw their way into the last Western Conference playoff spot.

Yet the trio -- who made their return to South Florida on Thursday night for the first time since becoming Lakers -- harbor no ill will or resentment toward the franchise that traded them away last summer, in the blockbuster deal sending Shaquille O'Neal to Miami.

Odom had 11 points and 11 rebounds, Butler had 10 points and Grant added eight in the Lakers' 102-89 loss.

"I'm happy for this franchise," said Butler, the Heat's 2002 first-round draft pick. "It's a very good family atmosphere here. ... I definitely miss it, but I'm happy where I'm at."

Their homecoming was a subplot overshadowed by the second meeting of O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, whose strained relationship eventually disintegrated so much that the Lakers opted to re-sign Bryant to a $136 million, seven-year deal -- and send O'Neal to Miami.

But to make the trade happen, Miami gave up three of its most popular players, both in the locker room and community.

"It was tough when they left and I still have great feelings for all of those guys," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "So from that standpoint, it's always good to see them. But it's still the same when the game starts -- you want to win the game. I don't care who's out there."

So far, O'Neal and the Heat have clearly gotten the better part of the deal. Miami is now 51-16, winners of 11 straight and is battling San Antonio and Phoenix for the best overall record in the NBA.

The Lakers are now 32-32 and are now 1{ games behind Denver for the final West playoff spot.

"It's not hard to see why they're struggling," Heat guard Damon Jones said. "We've got the most dominant player on our team and he was on their side last year. When you take a big part of a basketball team away, like Shaquille O'Neal was ... you understand why they're having a tough time."

Grant has played sparingly, averaging career-lows of 15 minutes and 3.3 points. Odom and Butler are the Lakers' second- and third-best scorers this season, after Bryant, who ranks second behind Philadelphia's Allen Iverson in the NBA scoring chase.

Together, Odom and Bryant average more than 29 points and 15 rebounds per game. And Bryant believes that duo -- both players are just 25 -- will help the Lakers for years to come.

"We knew it was going to be kind of a rebuilding process," Bryant said. "We have all new players, all young players. Had a coaching change in the middle of the year, started a new offense in the middle of the year. To be where we are right now, we're right where we want to be, considering the circumstances."

Odom took the initial news of the trade particularly hard; he had struck a strong bond with Heat president Pat Riley, who played a big role in luring Odom to the team before the 2003-04 season.

Now, Odom says he's over it -- even though the Heat are contenders while the Lakers are struggling.

"It's just part of the business. It can happen anytime to any player," Odom said. "We got traded for Shaquille O'Neal."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press