- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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As Lamar Odom continues to mull his future, still hopeful that an improved offer for the Los Angeles Lakers is forthcoming, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade is trying as hard as he can to convince Odom to end his free-agent wait.
Wade announced via his Twitter account late Sunday night that he has flown to Los Angeles to "bring Odom bac (sic)" to the Heat. That was Wade's follow-up to an earlier weekend tweet in which he implored Odom to "come back to where it started for the both of us."
Although it's unclear how much impact Wade's ongoing recruiting efforts will have on his former teammate -- or if Heat president Pat Riley, who's also in L.A. this week, will be meeting with Odom -- one source with knowledge of the talks told ESPN.com that a resolution to the monthlong Odom saga is likely "in the next few days."
Odom's options, as of Monday, were choosing between an offer from the Lakers that has been reduced from its high point two weeks ago or taking one of the multiple fallback proposals from the Heat that are thought to be sufficiently attractive to coax him to Miami.
So eager to reunite Odom and Wade after their one successful season together in 2003-04, Miami has offered Odom as much as it can for a team well over the salary cap: $34 million over five years with an opt-out to return to free agency after the fourth season. Sources said that Odom, if he ultimately decides to return to South Beach, would likely sign the five-year deal or opt for a four-year deal that comes with a provision to return to free agency after three years.
One team source confirmed Monday that Lakers owner Jerry Buss, after pulling his initial offer off the table on July 14, is now offering "less" than the original three-year, $27 million deal that he withdrew when Odom pushed for a fourth year. Another source maintains that Odom's preference remains returning to the Lakers after helping them win a championship in June but cautioned that he is prepared to return to Miami and reunite with Wade and Riley if nothing changes this week.
Sources with knowledge of the talks told ESPN.com that an informal level of contact between the sides was maintained after Buss pulled his offer, but it appears that they remain far apart in negotiations. Wade, meanwhile, continues to turn up the volume on his public pleas for Odom to stop haggling with the Lakers, after announcing two weeks back that the Heat "want him back home."
Wade and Odom played together for only one season before the latter was packaged with Caron Butler and Brian Grant in the deal that brought Shaquille O'Neal to Miami in the summer of 2004. The Heat, with Wade as a rookie, finished 42-40 that season and won a round in the playoffs despite an 0-7 start.
Odom, who turns 30 in November, has made it clear over the past several months that he has no desire to leave the Lakers. The possibility exists that Buss has simply decided that he is no longer amenable to absorbing the luxury-tax implications of bringing him back, but it would be an undeniable blow for the Lakers to report to training camp in October without Odom and Trevor Ariza after their contributions to the 15th championship in franchise history.
If Odom does join the Heat, Riley is also expected to make a harder push to trade for Utah's Carlos Boozer -- to flank Wade with two top forwards in an attempt to convince Wade to commit his long-term future to the Heat -- while the new champs would be forced to depend on Andrew Bynum and the newly acquired Ron Artest to minimize the impact of Odom's departure.
Although he initially chafed at his move to the bench last fall, Odom ultimately flourished as a sixth man last season. In spite of a back injury suffered in the second round against Houston, Odom averaged 12.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 32 minutes per game during the playoffs, when he frequently wound up teaming with Pau Gasol in the Lakers' frontcourt with Bynum either struggling or plagued by foul trouble.
Replacing Ariza with the more physical Artest this offseason gives the Lakers someone more capable of absorbing some of Odom's minutes and responsibilities. But Odom's exit would undoubtedly be celebrated by other playoff contenders in the West, since it's the luxury of having three long-limbed big men to surround Kobe Bryant -- Odom, Gasol and Bynum -- that makes L.A. so fearsome. Odom also ranks as one of Artest's closest friends in the game, so his continued presence would theoretically help Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Bryant manage the mercurial Artest.
The Lakers went into the offseason hoping to convince Bryant to sign a contract extension after resolving the futures of Ariza and Odom, with Bryant possessing the option again next June of joining the free-agent class of 2010 if he chooses. On a promotional tour in Asia last week, Bryant said he was "optimistic that he'll be back."
"He makes a much, much stronger team," Bryant said of Odom.
In 10 NBA seasons, Odom has averaged 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds. He made $14.1 million last season to complete the six-year, $63 million contract he received from Miami in the summer of 2003.
"Lamar already knows how I feel," Wade said recently. "It's a very important decision in his life. It could be about where he ends his career."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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