There’s no question that the Lakers miss what Lamar Odom, traded to Dallas in the preseason, brings to the basketball court. Any team would. But as some of Odom’s old teammates explained at Sunday’s practice, they may miss Odom’s presence off the court even more.
Luke Walton, one of Odom’s best friends, explained why.
“This was family to him,” he said. “He’s a very caring person when it comes to the people he’s close to and he was close to a lot of people here.”
Walton has tried to connect with Odom over the phone, but quipped that Odom “doesn’t answer his phone,” well known to his friends. Yet he was the guy that kept the Lakers’ locker room loose, the proverbial straw that stirred the drink.
A few years ago, Walton lost a close friend from college, leaving him “all messed up in the head,” he said. Walton didn’t tell anybody about it, and says he was simply out of it. Odom approached him wanting to talk, but Walton wasn’t ready and continued to hold it in. Insistent, Odom pulled Walton aside, and eventually got Walton to join him for a beer to discuss whatever Odom sensed was bothering his buddy.
“He told me different personal stuff about his life, and by the time we got done hashing it out, I felt way better,” said Walton. “Lamar left, and I was just like, ‘Wow.’ He didn’t have to do that. I hadn’t even told him there was anything wrong with me. He just perceived how I was acting.
“For someone to go through as much as he has in his life, to still be that guy who is always smiling, always making sure other people are happy, really shows what kind of person he is.”
The Lakers and Mavericks tip off at 7:30 p.m. at STAPLES Center.
Lamar Odom’s best season as a Laker had a tangible individual reward, as he garnered the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year trophy after playing all 82 games to average 14.4 points on 53 percent field goals, with 8.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists plus 38.2 percent from three-point range.
In the playoffs, Odom averaged 12.1 points on 45.9 percent, 6.5 boards and 2.1 assists, his numbers down as were almost all of his teammates in a rough stretch of 10 games.
Below is a summary of his exit interview:
- If you took a poll amongst the media that covers the Lakers about which player is the most enjoyable to interview, Odom would win in a landslide. His first comment, while sitting down, was “With how many of you’ll are hear, I’d have thought we won. What are you guys doin’?” with the usual twinkle in his eye and smile on his face, even though he was clearly down from the playoff drop out.
- Reflecting on his time with Phil Jackson: “Amazing. History. Being a part of his championship teams, watching him win championships with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaq and Kobe … to experience that as a basketball player is a dream come true.”
- On his meeting with GM Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson: Odom relayed his appreciation for the time and the run that this group had with Phil, and how now it’s time to gear up and try to start another one. Later, Kupchak would tell the media that Odom was the only player who he thought had a “great” individual year. That said, Odom was talking to Derek Fisher about individual success he may have felt this year on the plane ride back from Dallas, but after experiencing championships, Odom said “to hell with it” to individual accomplishments. “The one year I get noticed or I get accolades, get to work with my wife and have a reality show and a fragrance happen is the year that we come up short, that we lose.” Odom said it would be “silly” to associate his off court activity with his shooting the show. While shooting, L.A. won 16-of-17 games, and the show wasn’t shot in the playoffs. Furthermore, Odom said his teammates certainly didn’t have a reality show being filmed, implying that guys didn’t play poorly because of something like that.
- Count Odom amongst the several Lakers that said they definitely wanted to stay together as a unit. He knows that the team was expected to win again, and is disappointed that they didn’t, but confident that adjustments will bring them back. He added: “When you play on a high level, three four years in a row, all the teams are gearing up for you, and (this year) they got us. Some times you get beat, sometimes you lose. We lost.”
- Odom on where it went wrong: He certainly mentioned fatigue as a big factor, as most players did, but added this: “We never got to that consistency of playing defense at a high level, from the beginning of the season to the end. You’re going to miss shots, you’re going to be tired, but you always can play team defense, be one of the best defensive teams in the league. I didn’t think we did that throughout the year, making it hard enough on teams.” It wasn’t that the team wasn’t hungry, which he said he knew because of how much it hurt when the lost, but added this: “What happened was, we got cocky and we played cat and mouse with the rest of the league. We just couldn’t recover.”
- Odom on what type of coach the team needs: “Keep us bonded, push us. This should be an easy team to coach. You’ve got veterans who know how to play.” He said that “of course” Brian Shaw would be a good candidate, and Odom would like to stay with the triangle offense. When done right, it gets everyone involved and lets people use their advantages, which is how L.O. likes to play.
- What Odom will miss most about Phil: “His sarcasm. Our weird relationship … it was fun though. How he used to push me, how it was fun for me to try and prove him wrong. But I learned so much for him. He got me into reading, which helps me learn something new every day.” Odom was also one of the few to put it in perspective with Phil, suggesting that “I think Phil will be all right,” referring indirectly to his great coaching success and general demeanor.
- Odom detailed how he’s been trying to get his mind off the playoff loss by staying at home, then joked with reporters who misunderstood by saying: “I’ve got a back yard. I’m not hiding under my bed or anything like that. I got some sun, I just wanted to stay home.” He also said he looks forward to getting back to his original home in South Jamaica, Queens, getting his kids together, and “sit on a crate at the store.”
- Odom had lamented L.A.’s inability to call upon the chemistry that had been so good within the group wasn’t there against Dallas, but thinks the loss will make it easy to find again for next season.
- Two reasons Odom cited for having his best season this late in his career were: 1) learning from the players around him throughout the years like Kobe, Fisher and Gasol, which coupled with his natural growth around talent that’s always been there* and 2) the he family element off the court that made him just “feel support,” which we wrote about in a feature back in January. He specifically cited having his wife Khloe there at home, being able to talk to Bruce Jenner (Khloe’s step father and former champion decathlete) about winning, and having beautiful women cheering for him, which always makes him play better.
*Odom had a quick anecdote about when he’d go to the park in Queens as a six or seven year old, and people would say, “That kid can play!”
- Confidence never left Odom despite how the team was playing: “I thought we were going to win four championships in a row. After getting there against Boston and losing, then winning two in a row, I’d be lying to tell you (otherwise). We were down 3-0, I thought we were going to come back and win that series (against Dallas). Honestly. I thought it was meant to be. I think we can get there again, and really push the league, do the same thing we’ve done before.”
- Odom said he’d take two weeks off from hoops, then get back to work with his personal trainer. However, he said he’d probably do some boxing tonight, just so his legs won’t die on him.
Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the three big men so crucial to L.A.’s consecutive championships, will likely find themselves starting together for the first time since Gasol came over in February of 2008.
While Phil Jackson declined to definitively state who would replace Ron Artest — suspended for one game after a blow to the head of J.J. Barea in L.A.’s Game 2 loss to Dallas — in the starting line up, Odom said he thinks it will be him after the team’s Friday morning shootaround.
This past season, the three bigs have played together for less than three minutes … total … but in a hugely important Game 3 with the Lakers trying to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole, Jackson appears to be putting his best players on the floor for as much time as possible.
A major reason Jackson hasn’t tinkered with that (huge) lineup before is his preference to ensure that at least two of the three bigs remain on the floor at all times, which is more difficult from a rotation standpoint when the three start. But assistant coach Brian Shaw said in this game, the bench rotation may not be effected too much, as Odom could just play more minutes.
In other words, Odom can open the game with the starters in a bit more of a guard role with Bryant looking to attack more from a wing position, but still do his usual thing with the second unit once guys like Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown check in.
As if we needed any more intrigue heading into Game 3.
As long time Lakers analyst Stu Lantz introduced Lamar Odom as the 2010-11 Sixth Man of the Year, several of his teammates, led by Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, stood up to offer a standing ovation.
Odom, often content to just fit in and put the spotlight on others, was both flattered and embarrassed.
What you’ll doin’, man! … sit down, man … get outta here, man. I don’t even know what to say besides thank you to my family, my wife, my mother in law, my extended family, my teammates. It’s been a long time coming. I just kept at it. I’ve learned so much from the dudes in my locker room, Derek and Kobe, and at the end of the day I’m blessed to be around you guys. To play with so many great, talented players — Pau (Gasol), Shannon (Brown), Luke (Walton). You’re my boys, man. There’s a couple of people that I wish was here to see it, you know … but I just want to let you’ll know I’m thankful, man.
Such are the offensive skills of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol that there is often less focus about their collective defense at the power forward position, which has generally limited good opposing big men throughout the season.
With Minnesota coming into STAPLES Center on Friday evening, that defensive focus turns to Kevin Love, a first-time All-Star having a breakout statistical season with averages of 20.7 points and 15.7 rebounds. In Love’s first game in Los Angeles this season way back on Nov. 9, he exploded for 23 points and 24 rebounds in a 99-94 loss to the Lakers.
Odom in particular seemed to have that in mind when L.A. went to Minnesota a few weeks later, holding Love to without a single point on 0-for-7 shooting, which subsequently set off a 53-game double-double streak that was snapped at Golden State on March 13.
Within that streak was a 13-point, 11-rebound effort in a 90-79 loss to the Lakers in Minnesota on Mar. 1, though Gasol’s length and Odom’s activity combined to hold him to only 2-for-10 from the field, his points coming at the foul line (9-of-10).
Altogether, Love’s average of 12.0 points in three games against L.A. is his second lowest against any team, with Sacramento — another team with elite length at the four and five positions — holding him to 9.5 points. Thanks to his Nov. 9 effort, Love’s boards are at about average against L.A. at 14.0 per game, but he’s shooting just 26.5 percent from the field, his low against any team in the league.
When the Lakers were at Phoenix on January 5, we learned that Lamar Odom would shortly begin shooting a new reality television show for the E! network with his wife, Khloe Kardashian.
The show, its working title “Khloe and Lamar,” is set to air in April, and has been shooting for a few months now.
Prior to L.A.’s Tuesday evening game in Atlanta, from where the Lakers will head to Miami in advance of Thursday’s game against Miami, Odom had a few words to say about the show.
“It’s fun … (and) it’s work,” he said. “(The production staff) will be down there in Miami. (Khloe) will be down there. But it’s cool, it’s fun. The summer is going to be long, so after the season is over I think (the show) will be a little more fun for me.”
Odom revealed that there will be cameras in the house for a few hours every day, prompting me to ask whether or not he feels the need to be entertaining and interesting while doing normal house tasks or just playing video games.
“I know when I have to work, be ready,” he said with a smile.
On ESPN’s late night version of “SportsCenter” out of Los Angeles, anchor Neil Everett quipped that Lamar Odom nearly had a triple-double in L.A.’s 92-86 victory in Boston on Thursday night.
He finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and … eight stitches.
After tipping in Pau Gasol’s near miss at the rim at the end of the third quarter, Odom turned quickly to get back on defense and ran straight into the Spaniard, slamming his head into Gasol’s mouth/chin area. It was a quite a collision, drawing an open wound on Odom’s bald head due to some contact with Gasol’s teeth.
“My grandma used to say, ‘Scars give you character,’” said Odom, laughing it off after the game.
It happened with 51 seconds left in the third quarter, Odom’s tip putting L.A. up 72-67 and capping what was a terrific quarter for the Lakers. Head trainer Gary Vitti then closed the wound with some glue on the bench, allowing Odom to return to start a fourth quarter in which he was terrific, grabbing six of his 12 rebounds and nailing a three-pointer for the first bucket of the final period. After the game ended, Odom had to get the stitches to close the wound, which seemed to knock a degree of sense into his game.
“Second half (Odom) played well, first half I was on him a little bit,” said Phil Jackson. “I thought he was trying to do too many things individually, (but) the second half he played the kind of game we know he can play.”
Odom sarcastically joked in the postgame locker room that the stitches came at a “perfect” time, since he’s hosting a launch party with his wife, Khloe Kardashian, for the couple’s unisex fragrance “Unbreakable.”
After Sunday’s practice in Memphis, Lamar Odom chatted with reporters about topics ranging from: matching up with the Grizzlies; Zach Randolph and the advantages of being a lefty; why he loves watching college basketball; old Air Jordan, Bo Jackson and Andre Agassi sneakers; and why he wasn’t surprised to be left off the All-Star team.
Most was typical Odom.
He is, after all, among the league’s best and most accessible interviews, so it was no surprise that he spent nearly 15 minutes discussing this, that and the other thing with reporters while six of his teammates* played a heated game of 3-on-3 as the coaching staff looked on. And while sneakers, hoops and scouting reports are frequent topics, he hasn’t been accustomed to the feeling of being an All-Star snub, even if it wasn’t a surprise. *Luke Walton, Steve Blake and Joe Smith beat Shannon Brown, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter.
“I didn’t expect it,” Odom said, though he does feel that his play warranted a slot. “When you think about the way it goes … Love and Griffin got the nod, and they should have. They played long minutes, and they have the stats for it. They deserved it.”
Odom didn’t want to compare himself with Griffin or Love, both of whom are putting up their numbers on teams with 16 (the Clippers) and 24 (the Timberwolves) fewer victories than the Lakers’ 35, but he did acknowledge if not fully embrace that things may have been different were there not two other All-Stars on his team. And if you take Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol off the team, Odom doesn’t have two championship rings. In other words, it’s all good in his world.
“It’s just the way it is,” he said. “It’s something that you’d like to do, but if you don’t, you move on and focus on winning a championship.”
To Phil Jackson, L.A.’s formula for success en route to the past two championships is pretty simple.
“The force of our team is the length and the strength of our big guys,” he said after Thursday’s practice, a day after the team’s 103-88 victory in New Orleans. “Kobe (Bryant) drives the team, he has the energy for the team, but still it’s about making the defense have to look over their shoulders and help each other out inside, and then we can attack other places.”
That’s certainly what the Lakers have done in the past, and what they were able to do perhaps for the first time this season with 7-foot center Andrew Bynum returning to the starting line up after missing the first 24 games while recovering from offseason knee surgery and coming off the bench in the team’s past seven games.
He’d played an average of 17 minutes as the Lakers won four straight on the road against weaker opponents and then lost three straight, but on Wednesday in the Big Easy, Bynum was effective from the opening tip en route to 18 points with six rebounds in 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom — whom Jackson said has played at an All-Star level all season — willingly returned to the bench, then showed how little of a problem it was for him by scoring his career-high off the pine with 24 points.
“We knew we were going to have to make this move eventually, getting ‘Drew out there on the floor, and it was going to take a little bit of an experimental stage,” said Jackson. “Fortunately we came through with flying colors, but I thought it would be much more clumsy than it happened to be. We were able to do what we wanted to get done out there and shoot the ball well, too, so we’re happy with that.
“We know it’s going to take a little bit of time before we’re the full-fledged team that we think represents the championship teams that we’ve had.”
Perhaps so, but even with Bynum a few weeks away (in his estimation) of being fully ready to go, the Lakers looked like … well, the Lakers’ title teams in his first time playing regular minutes. The 23-year-old came through the game just fine, without any swelling, and will start against Philadelphia on Friday at Staples Center.
Bynum said that Odom’s been instrumental to his return, as L.A.’s most gregarious player has taken particular care to keep Bynum’s spirits up during his rehabilitation, telling him his starting spot was waiting as soon as he was ready. In New Orleans, Odom stood up to cheer on the bench when Bynum threw down his first alley-oop, then made 10-of-15 shots after checking in.
“He’s shooting 58 percent, and that’s one of the top shooters in the league,” said Jackson of Odom. “I think he’s very confident in what he can do out there on the floor. He knows what his game is, and he’s very comfortable assessing the game. He’s hungry for team play and he likes to help the team along.”
As for his willingness to return to the bench, a rarity for someone averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds?
“That’s the difference in championship teams,” explained Jackson. “We said it two years ago and last year, the difference is that you can guys that you can bring off the bench that are starters. In Lamar’s case, we have even an All-Star (willing to do it).”
Lamar Odom took some time with us after Thursday’s practice in Minneapolis to discuss his newly-refined right hand, his health and the team’s harmonious level of chemistry:
Throughout his entire professional career, coaches have been trying to get Lamar Odom to use his right hand, particularly around the rim. Not that it ever really worked … and the lanky lefty is the first to admit it. Phil Jackson and his assistants have certainly been harping on the issue in the past few years, but through the first 11 games of 2010-11, apparently the message has (finally) gotten through.
“I’ve been trying to change my body mechanics this year where I’m using my right hand more,” Odom said. “Because my body is so used to going left, finishing left, that I’m trying to get my mind right and think about it. That’s why I box, just for the mechanics of it. Now I just try to use it.”
Odom said that opponents had no choice but to overplay his left in the past, yet he still managed to get to the rim at least a few time a game with his gliding, hop-step move, his unique combination of length and quickness being enough to combat even a defender who knew it was coming. But this season, he’s simply gone right as defenders have allowed him (see picture to right), converting righty layups in three consecutive games, including and-one’s against both Milwaukee and Detroit.
“Being around players like Kobe (Bryant), Pau (Gasol), Andrew (Bynum) and even Ron (Artest), who can all use both hands, I wanted to join the pack,” he continued. “I think it’s something I just had to add to my repertoire after finishing almost (solely) with my left in the past, even though my game was pretty good like that. I think it will keep me tougher to guard. I think I can beat a lot of guys mentally if they’re like, ‘Oh, he might go right and finish right,’ I think mentally I’ll have them messed up.”
It’s notable that Odom’s left thumb has been bugging him since he strained it in the preseason, perhaps encouraging him to use his right hand more, but he seems convinced he’s doing it for the benefit of his game. Odom even offered an anecdote, suggesting that he’s pretty happy with how development is working out thus far.
“I made a move (Wednesday) night I was proud of even though I missed the shot,” he said. “I came across to the middle, caught the ball at the free throw line, kinda hesi’d*, got (Charlie) Villanueva to come to me, dipped my shoulder to get around him … I feel like I can continue to do things like that and get better.” *Lamar’s lexicon for “hesitated,” or “hesitation dribble.”
Continuing to get better is a phrase we constantly (and rightfully) associate with Bryant, most notably, but Odom says he’s really enjoying having Phil Jackson and players like Kobe and Gasol around on a daily basis from whom to learn. He feels that he’s been able to take a lot of that out onto the floor, and it’s paid off from a production standpoint in the form of 14.9 points on 58 percent shooting from the field and three-point range, 10.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, numbers nearly identical to his outstanding 2007-08 season despite four fewer minutes on the floor (38 then to 34 now).
It also helps that his body is feeling very strong from a macro perspective, helping him overcome several micro aches through camp and the early regular season, including that left thumb, a sore nose and a sore right foot upon which a Monday MRI came back negative.
“My body is about as hard as it’s going to get,” he explained, adding the word “tight” to clarify. “My muscle memory is good. I could take a week off of lifting and get back to it and still feel good.”
We know that Odom’s performance for the U.S. National team at the World Championships — in which Toronto head coach and U.S. assistant Jay Triano said Odom was the team’s most important player — helped him come into the season in perhaps the best shape of his career. And while the native New Yorker acknowledges that he has to be aware of his body so as not to wear down prior to or in the playoffs, it’s not something about he worries.
“Nah,” he said. “I’m cool. Really, I’m fine.”
Nearly as significant as his performance on the floor is what Odom brings to L.A.’s locker room. One of his newest teammates, Steve Blake, called Odom the “Cool friend that everybody likes,” and the fact that he’s universally liked amongst his teammates is quite obvious.
“I’m just being myself,” Odom said. “I’ve never had a problem with saying hello to somebody. I’ve been on a team all my life … it’s the one thing I do know.”
As such, he’s in a pretty good position to evaluates what appears to be a very good team vibe.
“I think that this team, because of the age, is pretty mature as far as their role, what they’re going to give the team and how they’re going to contribute,” he concluded. “Everyone is content about their role. Not because they don’t want more, but because they understand what they have to give and they’re willing to give that. It causes the kind of balance that we need.”