USA Basketball finalized its 12-man roster for the 2010 FIBA World Championships yesterday afternoon and as expected, the Lakers’ Lamar Odom was selected as one of its representatives. Odom will be joined by Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala. The 12 players who will compete this summer will join a narrowing pool of players with which USA Basketball will choose from when filling out its 2012 Olympic roster.
“We play professional basketball for a living,” said Odom, summing up his decision to play for Team USA this summer in a great feature from ESPN LA. “We come out and we represent our country with pride. This is something we do just for pride. We playing for the names on the front of our jerseys.”
Odom’s willingness to slap on the Team USA jersey, after three consecutive grueling trips to the NBA Finals, offers a great deal of insight into his character and motivation as a basketball player. To some, the chance to play for your country on one of the world’s largest stages is a no-brainer, yet several of the league’s top players chose to remain on the sidelines for this summer’s World Championships. Some had legitimate injury reasons (Kobe), while a lack of commitment by others was more confounding (Dwight Howard). The Lakers forward could have looked at this offseason as a time to rest up for the Lakers’ historic three-peat bid, saving himself from potential burnout or injury. Instead, Lamar jumped onboard without the slightest hint of hesitation, eager to to take the first step toward redeeming Team USA’s loss in the 2004 Olympics—a team on which his solid play received almost universal acclaim. Odom has been criticized in the past for his wavering motivation, but his dedication to Team USA has never been questioned.
As previously noted by Darius in last week’s Mailbag, Lamar’s selection has potential implications for both the forward and the Lakers this season, as well as for the 11-year veteran’s legacy. On a U.S. team seriously lacking in the size department, Odom was used as the team’s starting center against Spain earlier this week. Though that’s not a role he’ll be asked to fill in L.A. (barring catastrophic injuries to the Lakers’ entire front line), the experience should prepare Odom well for when the forum blue and gold will need him to join Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the court for Coach Jackson’s seldom-used “bigs” lineup.
That works both ways too, as Team USA’s reliance on Lamar to provide desperately needed muscle inside could open the door for Phil to use him in a dramatically smaller lineup against run-and-gun teams like the Suns and maybe more urgently, the Thunder. Neither of these possible roles are anything new for the Lakers’ versatile assassin or the Lakers, but the opportunity to observe Odom in a different context as part of Team USA is nevertheless an interesting one.
More than anything, I think that Odom will benefit the most from his more symbolic role with this year’s Team USA squad. As the de facto veteran sage, Lamar will be entrusted to do something he’s struggled with at times during his L.A. tenure—lead. Though Team USA has up-and-coming stars like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose to take on the scoring burden during crunch time, it is the Lakers forward who has been through it all before as a starter on the 2004 Olympic squad. As such, he’ll be relied upon to help the set tone for Team USA in a tournament where most experts are actually picking them to place second or worse. The early returns have been mostly good for Team USA too, as Lamar produced a 12-point, 9-rebound performance against Spain earlier this week. He followed it up with a less than stellar game today in 18 minutes of playing time (zero points on one field goal), but his team still managed to blowout Greece, 87-59.
Overall, the experience should prove invaluable for Odom as he’ll not only be asked to serve as a locker room presence, but also as a consistent leader on the court too. While Lamar willingly accepted a new role as sixth man prior to the 2008-09 season, he hasn’t always shown himself as a reliable force off the bench, night in and night out. Against increased competition from teams like Spain and Greece, he’ll have to be consistent if Team USA hopes to prevail. As is the case with the Lakers, Odom is indisputably a key X-factor for Team USA, even in this differing role. With a replenished bench that now includes newcomers Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers will similarly need Lamar to serve as a steadying force. Whether or not the forward can pull from this newfound leadership mentality and apply it toward next season is certainly one of the Lakers’ more intriguing plot lines heading into the 2010-11 season.
“We want him because of his versatility,” said Jerry Colangelo, about why he coveted Lamar’s presence. “He can be effective playing five minutes or playing 25 minutes. It’s not about 12 superstar players. It’s about finding the right components to make up a team. He fits the bill. He was valuable to us. We didn’t just pick him because how he plays, but because of who he is.”
After 11 NBA seasons, Lamar has still never been selected as an NBA All-Star, but now owns two NBA rings that I’m guessing hold a lot more weight for the Queens native. Next up: Olympic Gold Medal.
“I would love to go back and be able to redeem myself and win a gold medal, but more, I would love to go back just to play for USA again,” said Odom.
Looking ahead to what promises to be a challenging World Championship tournament, it is clear that Lamar’s priorities as a basketball player have shifted. While there is no guarantee that he’ll be an Olympian when the team carves out its 2012 Olympic roster, Lamar’s selflessness and commitment to Team USA’s endeavors prove that he’s worthy of the title either way.