source: Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com
DALLAS -- In his first public comments after forward Lamar Odom's return following a 10-day personal leave, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban expressed confidence that Odom is fully committed to the team.
"I'm not worried about that at all," Cuban said before the Mavericks' game Tuesday night against the New York Knicks.
Cuban, however, acknowledged that there was significant concern among Odom's teammates about the issue. Some Mavericks were bothered that Odom, who was expected to miss only one game and return after the All-Star break, met with his agent and Cuban in Dallas last week while the team was on a road trip and in the midst of a stretch of nine games in 12 days.
Odom originally left the team on the Wednesday before the All-Star break to tend to a family matter, which sources confirmed was his father's illness. The reasoning for Odom's delayed return isn't clear to the media or his teammates, but Cuban said the meetings in Dallas were necessary.
"Because you've got to deal with things," Cuban said. "The goal is to solve the problem, not to look good. I can't tell you how many times players have been concerned about other players. That's just the nature of the beast. As I said, I've been through it a lot of times. I've got to try to put together a plan and stick through it in those cases. That's exactly what I did."
It's also a goal to help the team win, and the Mavs were 0-4 during Odom's leave.
However, Cuban has no regrets about how Odom's situation was handled. He made his return in Saturday night's win over the Utah Jazz, contributing nine points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 18 energetic minutes. Odom has planned to have a one-game rehab stint with the Texas Legends, the Mavs' D-League affiliate, but that was canceled because the Mavs determined they needed him as soon as possible.
Yet Cuban considered dealing with Odom's unspecified personal issues to be the top priority.
"If you don't solve the problem, you might be back there and might make it look good, but it won't solve anything," Cuban said. "There's a time when you have to be there and a time when you have to be away, and you've got to know the difference between the two. Just making appearances, just to say you're there without solving the problem, does more harm than good."
Cuban said Odom communicated with him throughout his paid leave, adding that it was not a surprise that Odom didn't report to the team immediately after the All-Star break. There were rumors flying that Odom wanted a buyout of his contract -- possibly in an attempt to return to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers -- but those have been firmly denied by Odom and Cuban.
"That's wrong," Odom said Saturday. "I'm lucky, I'm blessed to be able to play for a team like this, an organization like this."
Added Cuban on Tuesday: "That was never the issue despite what you read. You know what's more interesting is that there's a whole lot of people, myself included, who like to use the media to try to create drama and stir up controversy. And it's so easy, it's hard not to. Getting all the emails and questions I got from L.A. reporters when Lamar was in Dallas was enlightening and not surprising. That's just the way the media game is played in professional sports."
Coach Rick Carlisle was bluntly critical of Odom during his Friday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM, saying that patience with Odom had worn thin throughout the organization after an underachieving first half of the season. Carlisle also said that Odom needed to play with much more effort and energy upon his return to end questions about his commitment to the Mavs.
On Tuesday, Cuban insisted that he had no questions about Odom's commitment.
"Is he here? Is he here? Is he here?" Cuban said. "He played great the first game back. He played not as well but well the second game back. He's done everything he asked. He was here early this morning shooting. That's in."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.