Report Card - Lamar Odom
Business as usual: An off-season that features speculation over Lamar Odom's future with the Lakers, a ritual that gains even more intrigue this summer with his contract entering its final year. Business as anything but usual: Seeing Lamar Odom finally become the player everyone wished he could be, which ironically stemmed from finally being the player he wished he could be.
Until this season, Odom's time in purple and gold was spent operating outside his comfort zone, which is filling out the less glamorous sections of a stat line and not making points a primary concern. Middle ground was achieved in fleeting bits, which led to the consistent "inconsistent" tag. It's not that Lamar can't or won't score. He just doesn't have a scorer's mentality and happens to be the rare player actually honest when claiming not to judge a performance by points. When he gets the ball, his first instinct isn't to figure out how to make it stroke nylon. Never has been and never will be.
Can this be maddening? At times, sure. I too get frustrated by those "7 FGA" games (unless they're accompanied by as many or more free throws). But at the same time, players willing to let others "get theirs" ain't necessarily a bad thing. There's more to playing "aggressively" than points tallied. The trick finding a balance and for so long, LO was being used in a way that left him and the Lakers unbalanced. A square peg (an extremely versatile third/fourth option) forced into a round hole (20 ppg/second option expectations), and instead of finding a round peg, the Lakers seemed determined to make Lamar who he isn't. But then through one big roster change and the rapid development by one particular player, the need for Lamar to rack points in a specific way vanished. Then a funny thing happened.
Points - along with an more efficient and consistent game - finally began to flow.
People always describe Lamar's season as "taking off" upon Pau Gasol's arrival. And that's certainly the truth. But it's also an incomplete truth. We'd already seen LO flourish upon Andrew Bynum's sudden blossoming into a dependable low post presence. That was right around when Kobe Bryant declared his team a championship contender with Drew in the lineup... and of course, Lamar kicking arse as Alfred to their Batman and Robin. If you check out Lamar's game logs against Bynum's and Gasol's or on a month to month basis, the trends are pretty marked. LO's November (before Drew was a full-time starter) and January (much of which was spent pre-Gasol, post-Bynum) comprise the least productive 30 day sets. But everything else was pretty terrific. Career highs for rebounds (10.6, NBA-7th), FG % (52.5, with a scorching 59% after the All-Star break), career lows for turnovers (2.0) and treys launched (1.5, indicative of more time spent attacking the rack) and many other clips that simply represented his best work as a Laker.
On the other side of the ball, LO is often the team's most underrated defender and definitely among the more willing. Beyond that, his influence as an emotional leader shouldn't go overlooked. Many a Laker has pinpointed time in Hawaii eating killer team breakfasts, lunches and dinners as the kick off for the celebrated bond this season. Guess who decided to hire a private chef specifically because he thought a Helter Skelter summer needed a little smoothing? Finding better people in the NBA than Lamar is a tough quest and I do think that character is an asset. Was his season always perfect? No. Do the occasional brain cramps still surface? Indeed. Did he crap out at times during the playoffs? Yeah, especially against the Celtics, a series that featured one terrific Game 5, a great first half in Game 4 and scattered everything else. But at the same time, no Laker (Kobe included) played more than one game unquestionably good from top to bottom. All in all, 2008 treated Odom well and in turn, he paid it forward to the Lakers.
Which brings us full circle to where we are now: Wondering what becomes of LO. Roughly 90 seconds passed after Game 6 before many a reader began shouting from the mountain top, "Lamar needs to be moved ASAFP!" That a deal hasn't already been made whirls these folks in a tizzy. My advice for this contingent: Take a Xanax. Draw a bubble bath. Chill. There is absolutely no reason to panic, no reason not to see how Lamar plays with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol (or even off the bench as a sixth man) before deciding that he absolutely "can't" fit. If that's indeed the case, his contract won't be any less expiring in February than next week.
And if he can fit (which I personally think will be the case), you're looking at a chance to resign the league's best fourth option with Bird Rights at a discount (which he'll have to take no matter where he goes). Either way, learn what you have before speculating what you don't. This season was successful on many levels because of patience (with young players the front office believed in, with not acquiring the first "name" possible to appease Kobe, with getting the most out of Kwame's expiring deal), yet everyone gets all goony bird because the shorthanded Lakers lost in the Finals. If we learned (or should have learned) anything from the Caron Butler swap, it's that sending out a player before getting a full look at him with teammates over fears of "losing him for nothing," his "role," or money is a mistake. Thankfully, I'm confident the Lakers will maintain this mindset when it comes to LO. After the 2008 he enjoyed, they'd be silly not to.
Final Grade: A-