Lamar Odom enters the off-season hoping to add more to his game
There rarely comes a moment where Lamar Odom's two children, Destiny and Lamar Jr., aren't tugging at the covers of their father's bed.
"Get up" is a phrase Odom heard often during the 2009-10 season, which featured Odom fighting fatigue while juggling a heavy workload. He married reality TV star Khloe Kardashian a day before training camp despite knowing her for only a month, appeared in several television commercials and tried to validate the four-year, $33-million deal (with a team option for the final year) he signed in the off-season. But the added celebrity and three consecutive NBA Finals appearances led Odom to say during his exit interview that "I'm tired man."
"I can't help it. I'll fall asleep right here, right in front of you guys right now," Odom said. "I could fall asleep no problem. Forget the physical part, but mentally, I'm tired."
You can't really forget about the physical part, though. Ever since dunking over Boston guard Ray Allen on Feb. 18, Odom nursed a left shoulder sprain for the rest of the season. He had predicted the injury would limit his shooting percentage and rebounding, but he followed through on his vow that he'd never use the injury as an excuse. He also played through most of the postseason with a sprained right knee, an injury that only exacerbated Odom's fatigue level. When asked what part of his body needs the most rest, Odom, said, laughing, "Head to toe," before adding that he'll soon have MRIs on both his left shoulder and right knee to determine whether he needs off-season surgery.
"I didn't let [the injuries] deter from my mind or my mindset," said Odom, who played in all 82 regular-season games. "That's to go out there and ball and give it what I got. Obviously it feels like it's worth it -- second championship, second in three years; we feel like we can continue to fight for this No. 1 spot."
But with Odom on vacation with Kardashian in Cancun, Mexico, to rest up, the Lakers apparently are weighing whether it was worth it for them to keep Odom, as The Times' Mark Heisler recently reported that Lakers owner Jerry Buss is considering dumping Odom's salary. Heisler wrote, "Now Odom, one of their most valuable players, is going on the block, supposedly because he didn't do much in the Finals, but actually because of his $8.5-million salary?" and then went on to advise the Lakers should keep Odom. Regardless of what happens, the mere possibility that Odom's being considered trade bait only a season after the team re-signed him shows his off-season goes beyond resting and recovering from injuries.
Odom's exit interview took place before Heisler first reported about the Lakers forward's job insecurity, but it remained clear Odom felt far from pleased with his performance in the 2009-10 season, which featured a points-per-game average of 10.8 points (career-low) on 46.3% shooting, 9.8 rebounds and 25 double-doubles (an increase from 18 the previous season).
Some may point to Odom becoming distracted with his increased celebrity, as Odom admitted "it's a work in progress" in juggling his responsibilities. Some may point to those aforementioned injuries limiting his physical capabilities. And some may point to Odom's cemented reputation as a versatile and team-first player yielding unpredictable results because of inconsistent hunger and focus. The reasons aren't so much important as the results mostly because Odom avoids talking about his marriage, downplays his injuries and shrugs off up-and-down performances. But with the full 2009-10 season in the books, Odom pointedly diagnosed what he didn't like about the season.
"I didn't shoot the ball the way I wanted to this year," Odom said. "In the beginning, I was really streaky. I had one part of the season where I was consistent and then it just kind of fell off."
The statistics show that Odom's shooting increased substantially from a 39.5% clip in November to a 51.3% clip in February. He then saw his shooting fluctuate, dipping to 45.3% in March, rising to 52.8% in regular-season games in April and then dropping to 46.9% in the postseason. But Odom's inconsistency went beyond shooting numbers. There's been plenty of times this postseason where the Lakers' supporting cast almost made Odom feel uninspired to find different ways to contribute, and it prompted Lakers Coach Phil Jackson several times to single out Odom.
Odom had spent his first five postseasons averaging 16.8 points per game, but he finished the 2010 postseason posting only 9.7 points per game. His performances improved each series from the Lakers' first-round matchup against Oklahoma City (7.8 points, 6.8 rebounds), their semifinals series against Utah (9.5 points, 10 rebounds) their Western Conference finals matchup against Phoenix (14 points and 11.8) rebounds, but his numbers dipped drastically in the NBA Finals against Boston to 7.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. His performances against Boston prompted Jackson to suggest during the series Odom needed an electrode to provide a spark.Even if he described his exit interview as "quick" with Jackson and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Odom shared plenty of ideas on how to improve his game. In addition to playing for Team USA for the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey from Aug. 28 to Sept. 12, Odom plans on sharpening his right hand, footwork and speed in hopes that he can play more at small forward.
"Our defense is so predicated on our offense that I think I can help this team if we can go toward a big lineup," Odom said. "It'll slow the game down, make it real methodical."
With Lakers center Andrew Bynum and forward Pau Gasol establishing consistency this season on the front line, Odom often appeared at a loss on how he could contribute. As much as Odom touts his versatile skill set, he suggested his move to small forward would help sharpen his focus. "It's my job to be prepared," he added.Part of that process will be resting up and recovering from injuries, two factors that may not derail Odom's performances next season if he tackles his off-season the right way. And that begins with resting up, with Odom hoping his kids don't try to wake him up. "Every chance I get, I doze off," Odom said.
But for Odom's case, he won't want to wake up and realize he's not a Laker anymore. The Lakers won their second consecutive championship. They avenged their 2008 Finals loss to Boston. And if Odom has his way, his status on the team will remain the same while his game changes for the better. Said Odom: "This is something I can get used to."
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom is raked across the arm by Boston forward-center Rasheed Wallace as Odom tries to split the defense of Boston guard Tony Allen and Wallace in the second quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.