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Scott Howard-Cooper

Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom is starting at power forward for the Lakers -- for now.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Starter, backup ... versatile Odom does whatever it takes

Posted Nov 11 2010 5:50PM

There is no surprise in the statement from Phil Jackson or the reaction from Lamar Odom. There certainly is no reaction beyond a yawn from anyone else in Camp Lakers. They've all lived this before.

Odom is opening at power forward, averaging a double-double, shooting 62.1 percent. The best team in the league is humming along in the face of what could have been a slow start because of a key injury.

And Odom is headed back to the bench.

Once Andrew Bynum is ready to play, he will move back into the starting lineup at center, Pau Gasol will take his early MVP candidacy from center to power forward and Odom will return to a reserve's life.

No problem. Odom starts, Odom subs, Odom helps win titles, as pliable in his role as he is versatile in playing different frontcourt positions.

"Makes no difference," he said.

As history will attest.

"Won two championships," Odom pointed out, as if it needed pointing out.

The difference this time is that the Lakers are 8-0, looking fluid on offense and solid on defense. They have depth and chemistry despite relying on newcomers. Defensive rebounding is their rare, glaring weakness.

Odom, in the middle of it all, is averaging 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. Until Bynum comes back, that is.

Exactly when Bynum will return from July knee surgery has been the subject of some conjecture. The latest is that late November or early December "might be reachable," Jackson says.

"We like what we see from these five guys," Jackson said. "However, there are extenuating circumstances with Drew. He has a knee that's a situation. He's got to get himself prepped before a ball game, he wears a brace because of it, and as a consequence, once he's warmed up, you hate to have a guy sit down for 15 minutes and cool off and then have to start over again. Even though Lamar's happy starting and playing big minutes, he's still capable of doing the job and coming off the bench better than Drew would be able to do it. So for the team's sake, I think it's the best process."

In the meantime, the Lakers have a starter who used the world championships last summer as a catapult into the NBA season. Odom's role for the gold-medal winning United States team was exactly as USA Basketball officials had hoped. Coaches wanted experience in pressure situations, versatility and a 6-foot-10 forward who could handle the ball. They got it in Odom, who has never even made an All-Star team.

Odom has been very much in rhythm since helping the U.S. team to gold in Turkey. He made at least half his shots in each of the Lakers' first five games, and when he slipped to 2-for-10 on Nov. 5 against the Raptors, the response was to go 10 -for-15 and 7-for-12 against the Trail Blazers and Timberwolves, respectively. He opened with four consecutive double-figure rebounding games and has yet to grab fewer than eight.

"I would say yeah, it helped out a lot, as far as my conditioning shape, my mindset, everything," he said of the world championships. "I'm a hundred-percent comfortable with the tempo and how I'm playing, how I'm moving. I feel quick, strong."

A hand injury late in the exhbition season could have derailed Odom's roll toward the season. Instead, it might have done the opposite.

It was the next-to-last exhibition game, against the Warriors in San Diego. Odom, a left-hander, banged the hand bad enough to skip the final preseason contest. In Jackson's mind, the injury gave Odom "a little more conscious thought about really shooting the shot right, good extension and everything else."

Still, Odom is destined to return to his role as a reserve, the one he had before Bynum was hurt a couple seasons ago, and the one Odom had before Bynum got hurt last season. When it happens, it will be no major moment for someone who has bounced around the lineup before.

For Odom, it makes no difference. As history will attest.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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