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Lamar Odom's participation in 2010 FIBA World Championships could prove critical in early season

September 28, 2010 |  8:00 am

Walking across the Lakers' practice court during the team's media day literally signified Lamar Odom's first step into the 2010-2011 season.

It didn't just mark the first time Odom would see the assembled reporters since his exit interview a week after the Lakers' 2010 title run. It also served as the first time Odom had actually been in the Lakers facility itself, thanks to a busy offseason. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol abstained from the 2010 FIBA World Championships, while  Odom helped Team USA to its first gold-medal victory since 1994.  While Andrew Bynum underwent a controversial surgery on his right knee after traveling to the World Cup in South Africa, Odom avoided surgery on his left shoulder and traveled to Turkey with Team USA.

Once Odom stood near center court, he was met with contradictory questions that appropriately resemble Odom's contradictory state of being. As Odom shared how he feels "blessed," "lucky" and "fortunate" for winning the 2010 FIBA World Championship, a reporter remarked Odom's "got to feel a little tired after all this." Although Odom said his left shoulder "feels good" and that he's managed to rest for the past two weeks, he revealingly described his energy level as "OK." And lastly, Odom enters the 2010-2011 season in a mixed state about his overall game itself.

He's only three weeks removed from mastering the starting center role for Team USA, providing hustle points and showcasing locker-room leadership. Those three qualities prompted Coach Mike Krzyzewski to speak fondly of Odom to Bryant, who then concluded Odom "has a great chance" to make the 2012 London Olympic team. But Odom's also a summer removed from displaying inconsistent postseason performances, followed with the Lakers' front office considering dumping Odom's salary, The Times' Mark Heisler reported.

The contradictions extend toward Phil Jackson's attitude about Odom. Never shy to needle Odom when he feels he hasn't reached his potential, Jackson so far in training camp hasn't pulled punches. He joked Odom has "deconditioned" since playing for Team USA. He teasingly accused Odom of remaining distracted with his one-year anniversary with reality TV star Khloe Kardashian. And he has kidded that he'll play Odom at center, his position with Team USA. But with Jackson expecting Bynum to miss the entire pre-season and at least two to three weeks of the regular season, Jackson acknowledged that Odom will likely start in Bynum's place.

"You never know where a coach or a team is going and where they have to use you," Odom said. "That's a role I had to fulfill [with Team USA] to get our goal accomplished."

For the sake of building continuity among his teammates and carrying over his success with Team USA, Odom's pre-season should provide a few answers on how his always versatile skill-set will fit in with a talented lineup filled with newcomers. Jackson doesn't expect Odom to play much at center, considering Team USA's up-tempo style sharply differs from the Lakers' triangle offense. But Odom's versatility should prove especially valuable considering Gasol will assume a heavier workload in Bynum's absence, Jackson's not sure what an untested Derrick Caracter will provide and Jackson doesn't want to load too many minutes on 37-year-old veteran Theo Ratliff. And the increased load could afford Odom an opportunity to play more at small forward, a position he wants to assume more this season since he believes it'll give him more opportunities to contribute.

Even if Odom admits part of his early season success will be predicated on his energy level, he isn't planning on dialing it down. Unlike most of his teammates who have recently worked out following a relaxing summer, he entered the Lakers facility on Media Day rested after a busy off-season.

"I don't think too much will change," Odom said. "I'd rather keep my engine on and practice as hard as I can," Odom said. "I'll be all right. I go after it pretty hard. I'm pretty sure that if I need the rest or get fatigued, Phil will understand."

-- Mark Medina

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