Lamar Odom is a more deserving All-Star than Pau Gasol
In one room, Lakers forward Pau Gasol stood at a lectern and expressed giddiness for coaches' having voted him in as a reserve center in what will be his fourth All-Star appearance.
"You're always happy and honored as one of the best in the league," said Gasol, who also said the honor had extra significance because Staples Center will stage the NBA All-Star game on Feb. 20. "It's always a happy reaction."
In the Lakers locker room, forward Lamar Odom showed eagerness in heading to the training room so he could minimize his disappointment over being passed over for what could have been the first All-Star appearance in his 11-year career.
"It is what it is," he said. "It's the way it is."
The unfortunate reality is that the All-Star honors should've gone the other way around, with Odom enjoying the reward for his most consistent season as a Laker and Gasol realizing his solidified reputation as one of the league's best forwards shouldn't overshadow his season-long inconsistency.
It wouldn't be fair for me to evaluate whether Clippers forward Blake Griffin prematurely received a bid in his rookie season, Spurs veteran forward Tim Duncan received essentially an honorary reward in a 13th All-Star appearance despite limited numbers, or whether the likes of Minnesota's Kevin Love, Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge, Golden State's Monta Ellis and Memphis' Zach Randolph were snubbed, simply because their impact should be measured beyond statistics and stature, an area I can't credibly evaluate since I don't see all the games. But following the Lakers and watching them play all season, it's without question that Odom deserves an All-Star bid over Gasol.
"Obviously it would've been nice if we both made it," Gasol said.
But that's only possible if NBA Commissioner David Stern selects Odom as Yao Ming's replacement, a move Lakers Coach Phil Jackson endorsed but only if he truly garnered the most votes among league coaches. With coaches unable to vote for their own players and Jackson refusing to divulge who he voted for to represent the West reserves, it's hard to say if that's the case. It's easy to explain, however, why Odom's a more deserving All-Star than Gasol.
The Lakers' 89-88 loss Thursday to the San Antonio Spurs doesn't provide the greatest of examples. Odom failed to box out Antonio McDyess, who scored the game-winning put-back, and mostly struggled with his outside shot except for a three-pointer that cut the Spurs' lead to 87-86 with one minute remaining. Gasol appeared aggressive for the second consecutive game, leading the team with 19 points on eight-for-10 shooting and hitting two free throws that gave the Lakers an 88-87 advantage with 22.7 seconds left. The reasons, instead, point to what they've provided for the Lakers for most of the season.
Odom ended the 2009-10 championship season with another inconsistent effort, concern that the team was considering dumping his salary, and vowing to improve his game by playing for Team USA in the world championships. Instead of the exercise leading to burnout, Odom arrived in training camp in the best of shape and rarely has given an uninspired effort, as indicated by his 20 double-doubles, sixth in the NBA this season. Jackson joked it's good Odom didn't make the All-Star team because he needs to take the weekend off to rest, but Lakers guard Kobe Bryant correctly summed up the sentiment on what it means that Odom won't play alongside Bryant in his 13th All-Star appearance. "He'll use it as motivation."
That's a much different reaction than what Jackson shared when talking about Gasol playing in the game. "He won't play that hard anyway," Jackson said of Gasol. The same can be said for certain stretches of this season. Gasol skipped the world championships and rested because he felt the Lakers' three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and the 2008 Beijing Olympics caught up to him, a strategy he believed would help his endurance level entering this season. With Andrew Bynum sitting out the first 24 games after off-season surgery on his right knee, Gasol expended most of that energy in filling the void, resulting in a dip in production from November to December in points (20.3, 16.3), field-goal percentage (54.1%, 49%) and rebounds per game (12.3, 9.5). These past two games, Bryant's prodding him to demand the ball and be more aggressive has led to more looks and increased production, but most of the time this season Gasol has appeared overwhelmed and has backed down from mental and physical challenges.
That's why it's revealing when Gasol acknowledged the Lakers' record (currently 34-16) helped secure him a spot in the All-Star game.
"Obviously if we were doing really bad, I'm sure I wouldn't have been chosen, probably," Gasol said. "The team's success always helps for you to be selected and considered. It gives you credit."
In this case, however, Odom's consistency this season has been more instrumental in helping the Lakers stay near the top in the Western Conference, a variable that unfortunately didn't help his cause.
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