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The Lamar Odom Watch

October 19, 2005 |  3:00 am

Since it was officially announced that the Zen Master and Dr. Buss were back in business, the talk has come non-stop and 24/7 revolving around one subject: Can Kobe and Phil co-exist?  No, Kobe ran Phil off. No, Phil wrote a book and made Kobe come off pricklier than Martha Stewart. Yes, they're both pros, they both want to win. 

Yeah, if Phil and Kobe blow up, it'll be time for more face time for Mitch Kupchak at the Draft Lottery.  But assuming everything goes well- Phil and Kobe need to coexist, not become bridge partners- what they can do together is a known quantity.  In many ways, for this team to find success, Kobe isn't the most important player.

It's actually Lamar Odom.   

The Kobe-Phil saga is the sexier story, sure to dominate the headlines, but for the team to reach its full potential, Lamar Odom must reach his. If you judge purely by Odom's stats last season, the year doesn't seem like a disaster. And in truth, it wasn't. A career high in rebounds (10.2) and field goal percentage (47.3). Scoring (15.2) basically in line with his career numbers. Even a career low in turnovers (2.5). But that may not have been a good thing, as it reflects Odom spending considerably less time last season handling the ball than in the past.  If the Lakers want to reach another gear, that'll have to change. 

After watching Odom spend a season playing an odd, uncomfortable combo of undersized power forward and spot up shooter, it's easy to forget just how versatile this guy is. Outside of Garnett, there's nobody in the league at his height with that kind of all around game. He handles the ball like a point guard. He rebounds extremely well. He can go coast to coast in a minute. And most importantly, his passing skills are phenomenal. And with those skills at his disposal, it's a waste of everybody's time for him not to be facilitating the majority of the offense. It's the perfect role for a guy who seems like he'd rather pass than shoot, anyway. That natural fluidity will keep his teammates involved. And most importantly, it'll take much of the onus off of Kobe, who's often at his worst when everything's left in his hands. It's one thing for Kobe to take over at the end of the night. He's the best player on the team. He's the one you want holding the rock with the game on the line. But when he's left to do everything, or just thinks he's being left to do everything, the entire offense suffers, his own included. For this season to work, Kobe needs to be fed, as opposed to deciding when everyone else eats. And Odom should be the one with the spoon in his hand the majority of the time.

So here's the million dollar question: Can Odom make this work? That's what we're gonna examine throughout the season. Every couple of weeks or so, we'll be taking a look at Odom. How he's fitting into the triangle. How he and Kobe are playing together. How comfortable he seems. If the visions of him playing a point forward Pippen to Kobe's MJ seems closer to reality than wishful thinking. We'll try to get feedback from his coaches, teammates, and hopefully, a good amount of insight from Lamar himself. And by the end of the season, we'll have a detailed, in depth look at the player that could make or break the 2005-2006 season for the Lakers.