Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had noticed Lamar Odom's uninspired play numerous times before, and kept hoping things would change.
It took one reply by Odom during a heated halftime exchange in his last game, when Cuban questioned the player's commitment to the team and Odom told him to quit playing games, to realize it was time for the two sides to part ways.
"Just his response to it. Everybody goes through ups and downs. Every player does. We tried to put him in a position to succeed. ... It didn't work," Cuban said Tuesday night, his first public comments since the team confirmed a day earlier that Odom was done in Dallas.
Their halftime exchange came after Odom played an uninspired four minutes Saturday night at Memphis.
"I just asked him, does he want to go for it or not. Is he in or is he out? I think he thought we were playing poker. I just didn't get a commitment. And that was the end," Cuban said. "This was a big game for us, and he wasn't connecting to that. And if you're not positive energy, you're negative energy."
When asked if that was the first time he noticed Odom having such a demeanor, Cuban responded, "No, but the first 17 times, I decided to try to help him and turn it into a positive."
That never happened.
Odom's averages of 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 20.5 minutes in his underwhelming 50-game stint in Dallas were career lows. He was also often late for team activities such as practices and meetings.
The Mavericks didn't release him and instead said Odom would be listed inactive for their remaining nine games. That started with Tuesday night's game against Sacramento.
"He didn't want to play. He decided to go elsewhere or do something else. Now we regroup and go forward," Cuban said. "We kept on hoping things would turn out right. It just got to the point where there weren't enough games in the season to try to find out."
The defending NBA champion Mavericks were only one game ahead of ninth place in the Western Conference standings going into the game against the Kings.
Dallas acquired the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year from the Los Angeles Lakers just before the lockout-shortened season. It was a low-risk deal for the Mavericks, who gave up a first-round pick and the trade exception from a deal that sent Tyson Chandler to the New York Knicks.
The Lakers seemed compelled to move the 6-foot-10 forward, who made $8.9 million this season, after trying to send him to New Orleans in a Chris Paul deal that was nixed by the league. There were also the personal issues for Odom, whose 24-year-old cousin was murdered last summer only days before the player was involved in a fatal car accident that killed a teen pedestrian after the car he was riding in as a passenger collided with a motorcycle.
Cuban said the Mavericks knew about Odom's fragile emotional state when they got him.
"Yeah, but we thought we could fight through it," Cuban said. "We knew that's why he was available."
Cuban insisted that he failed in trying to make the situation work, and that he didn't have to talk to anyone else to know the end had arrived.
"If I'm going to be the guy who smiles with my hand on the trophy, I've got to be the guy who takes the responsibility," Cuban said. "It was just my initiative, just paying attention. ... I was working with him, tried to get him back on the horse. When I failed, it was my job to recognize it, and deal with it."
Odom, the husband and reality TV co-star of Khloe Kardashian, still has a year left on his four-year contract. Any team that has the 13-year veteran on its roster on June 29 must give him a $2.4 million buyout or be responsible for the full $8.2 million he would be due in 2012-13.
"The way his contract is structured, it will hopefully create some opportunities for us," Cuban said, acknowledging he thinks Odom is tradeable. "Absolutely. It's in his best interests to get his act together, and I'm sure he will. Lamar is still a talented basketball player. He just went through some issues this year. We thought we could work through them with him this year and we weren't able to. Next."