Lakers Report Cards: Lamar Odom
Sitting on the team plane, plenty of thoughts raced around Lamar Odom's mind.
The Lakers just lost in a four-game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, officially ending the defending champions' chance to three-peat. He had ended that effort in embarrassing fashion, committing a flagrant foul on Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki in the fourth quarter, a defining moment that symbolized the Lakers' loss of composure. And then Odom's thoughts quickly raced about his improved individual season, where his third-best 14.4 points on 53% shooting and a third-best 8.7 rebounds earned him the NBA sixth man of the year and coincided with his increased celebrity brand, most notably featuring he and wife Khloe Kardashian starring in a reality television show dubbed "Khloe and Lamar," and the launching of a unisex fragrance line titled "Unbreakable."
But Odom's emotions on the team plane provided more compelling drama than anything that reality television might capture and brought into question the validity of the name of his fragrance.
"That’s what kind of broke me down," Odom said about the plane ride back from Dallas. "When I was with Derek [Fisher], I was talking to him about individual success. After experiencing championships, to hell with it. You go through so many things in life. The one year I get noticed, get accolades or get to work with my wife with reality show and fragrance is the year my team comes up short and we lose. It’s just the way it is."
Yes, there is a hint of irony regarding how the Lakers' disappointing season coincided with Odom's most satisfying effort in his 12-year career. Long considered a model of inconsistency, Odom proved this season to be just the opposite. Long considered an out-of-shape arrival at training camp, Odom entered the 2010 session at peak condition after a stint with Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. And long considered to underachieve and never reach his full potential, Odom overachieved this season and surpassed his potential.
Yet, as much as it appeared Odom grew as a player, he mysteriously reverted back to inconsistent habits in the postseason when he averaged 12.1 points on 45.9% shooting and 6.5 rebounds. He enters an offseason of uncertainty on whether his two-year, $17-million contract might be good trade bait. And he'll enter the 2011-12 campaign with the public wondering how he'll bounce back.
The most tempting storyline would connect Odom's postseason slump to his involvement with reality television. But that argument rightfully sounds "silly" in Odom's mind because filming happened in the regular season. It's also a stretch to connect his personal life being exposed to the general public, teammates likely teasing him more and opponents having more material for on-court trash talk, according to Hoopdata.com, shooting only 37.5% within 10-15 feet and 18.2% between 16-23 feet.
That is why it's understandable that Odom's television viewing after the Lakers' playoff exit was limited to the "500s," referring to DirecTV's movie channel lineup, and he mostly stayed away from the public spotlight. But once the initial frustration over the Lakers' failed playoff hopes die down, Odom only will have to realize that he could've avoided all this by replicating his regular-season success.
That's when he assuaged concerns the Lakers might consider dumping his salary like they did during the 2010 offseason, proved many wrong that his heavy summer schedule would lead to burnout and that he finally proved All-Star caliber. He didn't make the All-Star team like he had hoped, but he offered plenty of reason to leave many on the Lakers to think the NBA coaches snubbed him.
Odom's stint with Team USA kept him in peak condition and gave him the ability to overcome the upcoming mental fatigue. That's when Odom logged heavy minutes as a starter for the first 24 games of the season while Andrew Bynum rehabbed from his surgically repaired right knee, providing a solid foundation to where Odom averaged 16.3 points on 57.3% shooting in 37.2 minutes in the 35 games he started. Odom then graciously returned to the bench with minimal hiccups. Odom's indifference isn't all that surprising. He's accepted and excelled in a bench role with the Lakers for the last three seasons. His immediate response, however, truly shows how Odom's selfless attitude helps make any changed role seamless. He responded in the Lakers' 103-88 victory on Dec. 29, 2010, over the New Orleans Hornets by scoring a season-high 24 points off the bench on 10-of-15 shooting, making a three-pointer to end the third quarter and a nifty put-back after he wrapped the ball around his back. Odom's 13 points on 49.4% shooting and 5.6 rebounds as a reserve might be a statistical dropoff compared to his numbers as a starter, but Odom's versatile skill-set still proved just as valuable.
Of course, it was never a surprise to see Odom start a break with an outlet pass or end a break with a coast-to-coast layup. It was typical to see Odom man the ball up top on one possession and then bang in the post on the next possession. And it was normal to see all that on a consistent basis. But once the postseason hit, forget it. Odom didn't provide leadership to a faltering reserve unit, compensate for Pau Gasol's disappearing act or complement Bynum. That's why as impressive as Odom had proved for most of the season, his poor postseason play shows that it was actually Bynum that proved the most reliable this year when he was in the lineup.
But Odom won't fret over that. He'll just fret over the Lakers' failing to win a title, just like he did on the plane ride back to Los Angeles.
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Photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom proved to be the team's most consistent player during the regular season. But he proved unreliable once the playoffs start. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times