Those who frequent this site know that I am a big supporter of Lamar Odom. Much like LO’s addiction to candy, I have an overwhelming need to sing the praises of our lanky left hander. Over the years, despite my many frustrations with his play, Lamar’s flashing of his unbelievably diverse skill set has consistently captivated me and kept me firmly in his corner. And while Odom has always been the guy that has been mentioned in trade rumors or the guy that many would have happily given up to get a more established #2 player to pair with Kobe (thanks again, Kwame Brown!), Lamar ultimately stuck with this team and became a key contributor to our Finals birth last season and our long awaited Championship this past season. But, today, we find ourselves at a crossroads with Odom. The debate isn’t whether or not he should be traded, it’s whether he should be re-signed and what his value is. So, as the off-season has arrived, it’s pretty ironic that as an unrestricted free agent that can sign with any team that offers him a contract and after finally establishing himself and finding a role as a the X-factor of our three headed monster front court rotation, Odom could be on his way out the door.
As I mentioned, over the past two seasons, Lamar Odom has found his niche with this team. Once miscast as Kobe Bryant’s Pippen-like sidekick, Odom has finally found his role as the jack-of-all trades forward that would fill any role that the team needed. Starter, sixth man, rebounder, scorer, offensive initiator, defensive fulcrum, post up player, outside shooter, secondary role player, team leader – Odom has done it all for this team. Many players would chafe at the prospect of having the multitude of roles and such diverse responsibilities while also being depended on to perform nightly. And while Odom did struggle with his role when the season started and displayed his penchant of inconsistent focus and production, no one can say that he didn’t show up when we needed him most or play with extreme heart when the team needed a spark. I mean, when Andrew Bynum suffered his knee injury it was Odom that stepped right back into his old starting spot and played his best ball of the season. And when Bynum came back at the end of the regular season, Odom re-embraced his role as the leader of the second unit. Then when the team moved into the playoffs, Odom oscillated between starter and sixth man based off match ups and team needs – starting games to match up with Okur or Luis Scola then returning to the bench when he would have been matched up with Kenyon Martin or when Bynum was thought to be a better match for Dwight Howard. And (after his pre-season venting) he did it all without complaining about his role or causing any controversy. I’m having trouble thinking of one other player (besides Manu Ginobili) that could pull this off in the manner that Odom has for us.
Really, Odom has distinguished himself as the ultimate team player. In our second round playoff series against the Rockets, Odom crashed to the floor on a drive to the hoop and injured his back. Many at the time said that Odom would likely miss at least a game and maybe more. However, when the next game started he was right there with the rest of his mates competing and driving towards the ultimate goal. And even though his stats suffered (and fans were ready to ditch him again), I don’t think you can overstate how much it means to the players you go to war with when you show up and battle through any and all issues in an attempt to help the team. I mean, when you’re battling an injury and still able to come through, it can really inspire your team. It’s that dedication and commitment that endears Lamar to his teammates and his coaches. It’s that focus on team that has earned him crunch time minutes when lots of fans thought it should be someone else playing with the game on the line. In the end, I think it’s obvious that Lamar almost always puts the needs of the team above any personal goals or individual wants.
So here we are. We’re at the point where Odom’s true value to this team is no longer a mystery. When you talk X’s and O’s, he’s the player that makes our strong side zone work as he provides the mobility and length to move from one side of the court to the other, pick up flashing big men, guard perimeter players, trap the ball handler, and still recover to the paint to rebound. He’s the player that helps create our tremendous offensive spacing – playing as a PF that can initiate the offense, play on the perimeter (and be effective with the jumper or the drive), find creases in defenses to take advantage of the double teams that Kobe and Gasol face, and also play in isolation from any position on the court (wing, top of the key, low block, elbow, etc). And when you talk team building and chemistry, he’s also a real leader for the Lakers. Many will point to Kobe or Fisher as our leaders – and rightfully so - but it’s Odom that has been the stabilizer for our squad. He’s been the bridge between our first and second units, the guy that organizes team dinners and brings in a chef for training camp, the guy that is in the middle of the huddle motivating and inspriring our guys for the battle ahead, and the guy whose lighthearted nature and devotion to the team keeps the locker room loose. We need this player.
I understand that money will be an issue. I understand that another key player – Trevor Ariza (more on him in a separate post) – is also a free agent and is a needed ingredient for our future success. And I know that there are times where none of the superlatives that I’ve typed even seem relevant as we watch Odom pull a disappearing act and hinder our chances at securing a victory. But I’ll say it again, we need this player. Does anyone think we win a ring without Odom? Without him stepping in for Bynum when our young center was either injured or ineffective? Without him stepping up in Games 5 or 6 against Denver? Without him hitting those key three pointers against Orlando in the closeout game? Sometimes tough decisions really aren’t that tough. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet. But it’s not my money and I don’t write the checks. I am, however, fully invested in this team. If we expect to turn this one championship into an extended run of contention for the trophy, resigning Odom isn’t just a wish, it’s a necessity. But this is only my opinion, what do you think?