Lamar Odom in charge of managing rookie duties
When it came time to decide who would remain in charge of managing rookie duties with Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, the Lakers didn't choose the uber competitive Kobe Bryant, the eloquent Derek Fisher or the worldly Pau Gasol. They pointed to the personable Lamar Odom.
Clearly, the Lakers chose the best candidate and don't have to worry about opting for a recount.
"I'm the funny guy. I'm the jokester on the team," Odom said after practice Monday at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "They want me to put them under pressure a little bit."
That led to a conversation as to what might be in store for Ebanks and Caracter when the Lakers prepare for a trip Wednesday to Las Vegas for an exhibition game against Sacramento. He mentioned the likelihood that he'll pack heavier suitcases on trips knowing he'll have Ebanks and Caracter to carry the luggage. When Odom feels tired, he might have Ebanks and Caracter come over to his house in the Valley to pack for him. And, cognizant he didn't want to give away any other secrets, Odom remained mostly mum on what's next.
The conversation led one reporter to ask jokingly if Odom has earned the title, "Vice President in Charge of Rookie Hazing." But he immediately shot that theory down. "I wouldn't say that," Odom said. "We're just going to have some fun with them."
This revelation isn't so much about what tasks Odom has in store for Ebanks and Caracter. (I've already come up with a few possibilities.) Instead, Odom's new responsibility provides another example on how his leadership qualities appear magnified entering training camp under a team that truly values his presence.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has already said that Odom is the lone player on the team's roster that appears in "basketball shape," as Andrew Bynum and Bryant conntinue to recover from their respective surgically repaired right knees, Luke Walton remains sidelined with a strained right hamstring and the newcomers Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Ebanks and Caracter continue to ingratiate themselves with the team. Normally Jackson questions Odom's conditioning during training camp, but this preseason there's really nothing to critique since he's averaged 14.5 points in two games and had a double-double effort (17 points and 18 rebounds) against FC Barcelona in 41 minutes.
"I'm ready to play our first game now," said Odom, who cited his experience with Team USA this summer, diet, focus and rest as factors for his strong start. He's also gotten ice after practices to ensure he stays healthy. "Even when I was in good shape, [Jackson] always felt like I could be in better shape. Last year I was in pretty good shape. But it's not about that. I just want my team healthy. It's good I'm in shape. I feel confident. I want the rest of the guys to get healthy so we can make another run at it."
Odom's friendly personality and supportive attitude seems to reflect the Lakers' demeanor these days in general, particularly toward the rookies. Jackson has constructively analyzed what Caracter and Ebanks need to improve without demeaning them. Bryant publicly lauded their effort in trying to fit in with the team. Fisher credited their professionalism. And Odom provided ringing endorsements about their games. "Derrick Caracter is a beast on the inside," he said. "Devin Ebanks has incredible footwork and I'm incredibly sure after he works with Kobe on some of it, he'll get even better."
That's why it shouldn't be surprising that the rookie duties have been tame at best. Ebanks and Caracter typically pick up water bottles, put the basketballs back on the rack and line all the towels together. Ebanks shared on Twitter that the Lakers' eight-day trip to Europe consisted of them waking their teammates up and dropping their practice uniforms off.
Part of that respectful and supportive tone surely points to Odom, who's lately displayed his relentless energy while still remaining sensitive to his teammates' needs. While something as customary and menial as assigning rookie duties might not mean much, it still provides a glimpse on how Odom provides a positive nurturing influence. That can prove to be a winning formula considering how dialed in Odom has become.
"Anytime you can be around winning makes you a better player and person," he said of the situation. "It makes you see the game totally different. I just want to win."
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Photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom breaks into a smile during a break in the exhibition game with the Timberwolves at O2 Arena in London. Credit: Clive Rose / Getty Images