ODOM LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK
Slouched in a black folding chair, predictably surrounded by microphones and cameras, Lamar Odom sounded at peace with his past.
It was Media Day, the official beginning of another NBA odyssey for the former Clipper reborn. Odom, the team’s top selection in the 1999 Draft, was returning to Los Angeles following a turbulent season in Dallas and summer spent rediscovering himself.
“Sometimes in order to do what we want or do what we expect of ourselves or make good decisions, you have to be in a happy place,” Odom said, speaking softly to a group of nearly 40 reporters. “You’ve got to be in the right place mentally, and I’m in that place.”
Odom’s journey to get back to the place, or mindset, that helped make him a two-time champion and winner of the 2011 Sixth Man of the Year Award was far from a simple process.
He alluded to it in June when he was acquired as part of a complicated four-team trade that sent Clippers guard Mo Williams to Utah and was more specific three months later as his new team prepared to open camp.
“As you guys know, I’ve been through a lot,” Odom said. “I’ve lost someone close to me, buried a child, won championships, got married in front of the world.”
Asked if he was more philosophical now, Odom answered, “I have insight. I’m lucky because a lot of those losses, people are still here with me, helping me kind of get through everything.”
Odom, who turns 33 in Novemeber, struggled throughout the lockout-shortened season, posting career lows in most meaningful statistical categories, including playing just 20.5 minutes per game for the defending champion Mavericks. The problems, according to Odom, could have taken place anywhere.
“Sometimes when you go through certain things, other things that we might have been through in the past might resurface,” he said with a hint of his New York dialect surfacing. “This summer I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’ve been through a lot. I’ve learned to channel my energy, my thoughts, and how to think the right way. I’ve become a lot stronger over the [last six] months.”
“We expect him to be the player that he was throughout his career,” Sacks said. “He’s a guy I think can be a Sixth Man of the Year again. He’s done that and he’s versatile and he can do a lot of things on the basketball court that can help us. We didn’t have that versatility in the frontcourt last year. I expect him to be every bit as good as he’s ever been and I think he’s going the fit in with our team, with these guys perfectly.”The Clippers are counting on Odom, who has one year remaining on his contract, to regain a semblance of his former self. Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks, who along with Head Coach Vinny Del Negro and President Andy Roeser helped orchestrate the deal to bring Odom back to Los Angeles, believes Odom will.
Odom expects the same. “People ask me, what Lamar are we going to get, the Lamar in Dallas or the Lamar who put like a six or seven or eight year string of consistent ball together?
“[You’re going to get] the Lamar who put the six or seven or eight year string of good ball together,” Odom answered. “I mean, I’ve played well more than I’ve played bad, but people tend to remember what happened last.”
In the opening days of camp, Odom has meshed seamlessly with his new teammates. He jokes with staff members sitting courtside at practice, including engaging in a prolonged conversation with legendary broadcaster Ralph Lawler that ended with both men grinning widely. He has connected with veterans and young players alike. And despite admitting his physical condition “could be better,” Odom still has an uncanny ability to do things on the basketball court reserved solely for a unique few; like when he wiggles his 6-foot-10 frame between two defenders for a layup off the dribble or finds Grant Hill on a backdoor cut in just their second practice together.
“Lamar as a big guy, four man, he can slide to the five, handle the ball,” Hill said. “He can do so many things out there, he’s versatile, he can pass. He’s a willing passer.”
Lawler, who has known Odom for more than a dozen years, added: “He (Odom) will be the brightest light in the locker room. I virtually guarantee he will be the most popular player in there amongst his teammates. He’s a wonderful guy, so I was thrilled when I heard they (the Clippers) were bringing him back.”
In four years with the Clippers, Odom averaged 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds before signing as a restricted free agent with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2003. After one of his best statistical seasons in Miami, he was dealt to the Lakers along with Caron Butler and Brian Grant in exchange for Shaquille O’Neal, and emerged as one of the league’s premier reserves.
Again reflecting on the past, Odom said, “Everybody here’s been so great at welcoming me back, and riding with me. All I’ve got to do is be Lamar, from the locker room to the court to the training room, that’s it. And that’s not hard.
“To come back to L.A. and be able to play for a team that when I left it was a lot different; to be able to have kind of been able to go through what I’ve been through and bring it back, and pass it on to some of these guys is a pretty cool position to be in.”