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Lamar Odom making a case for sixth man of the year award

March 30, 2011 | 11:01 am

The concept still becomes difficult for Lakers forward Lamar Odom to grasp.

He remains in serious contention for winning the NBA's Sixth Man award, yet he acknowledged he'd never envision being in the running for such an honor in the first place after the Clippers selected him as the No. 4 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. Even when the Lakers acquired him in 2004 from Miami as part of the Shaquille O'Neal trade, Odom didn't see this scenario happening. He was considered the Scottie Pippen type player to Kobe Bryant, but a failed playoff appearance that season and two first-round exits in 2006 and 2007 eventually spurred the Lakers to acquire Pau Gasol on Feb. 2008. That sent Odom to the bench, a permanent spot Coach Phil Jackson wanted him to embrace as the 2008-09 season opened.

"At first, it was hard for me," Odom said. "From a business standpoint, the year Phil wanted me to come off the bench was my free agent year. You know how that goes. When you're a free agent, you want to start and play as many minutes as you can. But it was the right decision."

It's hard to argue after two consecutive championships. That's why Odom waxed nostalgia about the support Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have given him in accepting the bench spot. It's also why he if he receives the honor-- voted by 125 media members and announced at the beginning of the NBA playoffs - he plans to leave the award at the scorers table as a tribute to the fans at Staples Center who greet him with a loud reception when he enters the lineup.

Winning the sixth man award would represent the same reason why Jackson lobbied the Lakers' front office during uncertain contract negotiations with Odom during the 2009-offseason, why many consider Odom to be snubbed from this year's All-Star game and why he proved instrumental in the U.S. winning the 2010 FIBA World Championship for the first time in 16 years. The value he brings to the Lakers goes beyond the consistent numbers he's posted this season, including a third team-best 14.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per-game and a career-high 53.7% mark from the field assuming he maintains that pace for the final nine regular-season games. It's the way he changes the course of the games off momentum plays, adjusts to various positions on the floor and, more importantly, embraces a role he had once staunchly rejected.

"He's a guy willing to sacrifice for the team," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "He could put up bigger numbers if he was more selfish that way. But that's not what the team needs from him."

It's uncertain whether Odom will win the sixth man of the year award. There are others up for consideration after all. When the Lakers and Mavericks meet Thursday, a perhaps unfair barometer will be used on how Odom and Jason Terry go up against each other, two completely different players both Jackson and Odom say considering Terry is a guard expected to score and Odom is a forward expected to rebound. But it's still an intriguing storyline nonetheless, considering Terry averages a second team-best 6.4 points, 4.2 assists and 1.1 steals. And in an interesting twist, some Lakers wondered if his 34 starts during would penalize him, even though the only the criteria remains that he has to play more games off the bench.

In those 39 games as a reserve and 34 games as a starter, Odom seamlessly filled the same role. He plugged in the void the Lakers needed. He can focus on providing coast-to-coast dunks and layups and outlet passes, sparking the momentum plays he wants to provide off the bench. Or when Bynum missed the first 24 games when he rehabbed from his surgically repaired knee, transition back into the lineup as a reserve the following () games and served a two-game suspension for picking up a flagrant foul type 2, Odom immediately filled that starter's spot, by replacing the  post presence and widening the floor for the backcourt. Frankly, Odom's role has remained mostly the same as a starter and reserve, but he initially saw it as a blow to his ego.

"As a sportsman, you're used to starting," he explained. "I used to be one of the guys and go to guys on the team. I'd be lying if I told you it didn't. I'll be honest with you, a little bit. I've always started for every team I was on and was one of the first three options."

A 2008-09 season that Odom characterized as "up-and-down" and a 2009-10 season where he said he "mentally accepted" the role soon paved the way to where Odom currently sits. He's being considered for an award Jackson argues should measure the "impact a player has on a team." Even with being demoted to a bench position, in no way has Odom's impact been diminished. 

--Mark Medina

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