NBA@2: Odom Ready for a Second Chance
Once upon a time, the Los Angeles Clippers believed Lamar Odom was a major part of their long-term future.
An odd combination of circumstances involving Anthony Carter, his agent and a missed deadline, and suddenly the Miami HEAT had enough cap room to open the door for Odom’s exit and he took it. The Clippers could have matched Miami’s lucrative offer, but didn’t.
Odom would play one year for Miami before the Shaquille O’Neal trade quickly returned him to Los Angeles, but with the Lakers.
After a long, successful run including two titles, Odom was traded briefly to the New Orleans Hornets – at least for an hour or so until NBA commissioner David Stern, acting as owner of the Hornets, vetoed the deal.
Odom was crestfallen. He asked for a trade. The Lakers obliged, but the Odom who showed up in Dallas was out of shape, heartbroken and ultimately ineffectual. Before season’s end, Odom was in exile from the Mavericks as they lost in the first round to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“For a long time, the court has been like my sanctuary,” Odom said. “For a minute there, it wasn’t. As an athlete, sometimes you have to be honest with yourself where you’re at mentally and physically. I’ve had time to think and grow and mature a little bit.”
In the NBA, the game of basketball is a business but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real, human consequences.
“My heart was hurt a little bit,” Odom said. “Life is full of obstacles; things to overcome. Sometimes you don’t know what it’s going to be; where it’s going to come from.”
If anything, Odom is honest and open about his emotions.
“Life has humbled me in so many different ways that I’m fortunate,” Odom said. “I’m blessed to come back to what I consider home to play professional basketball.”
While he acknowledged that no one can truly anticipate what’s around the corner, he insists he’s in a much better place internally.
“You never know what life is going to bring you,” Odom said. “The things that we go through prepare us for things to come- I’m a lot more prepared to go through adverse times.”
At his introductory press conference, Odom was noticeably entourage-less – not even his wife Khloe Kardashian was in attendance.
“A lot of people since last year, doing a TV show, a lot of people questioned my focus on basketball. I never knew I was going to have a hit TV show, I didn’t plan it,” Odom said. “My focus on basketball is there. There’s a lot of things I want to make right. I know what kind of player I am. I just want to get back to that level. I told coach, ‘I’m 100 percent in,’ on whatever he wants and needs to be done. I’ll be his solider.”
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro is excited at the prospect of Odom backing up three front court positions for the Clippers this season.
“Lamar’s ability to take guys off the dribble, whether at the three or at the four or at the five depending on matchups, it just opens the court up a little bit more for Blake (Griffin) and Chris (Paul) and everybody else,” Del Negro said.
“He’ll bring a lot of stability frontcourt help,” continued Del Negro. “We’re going to do whatever we can to put him in a position to succeed and obviously he’s going to be a big part of our team. Just excited to have him here and back in a Clipper uniform.”
The timing was favorable for the Clippers in that they were able to lock in Odom early even if it cost Mo Williams in trade.
“I was pleased that we were able to already know that we had Lamar in the fold before we started free agency so we can just focus on upgrading the two spot,” said Clippers President Andy Roeser.
Roeser spoke highly of Williams for his time with the team. Roeser noted that it wasn’t Williams’ fault that he was demoted twice, consecutively, when the team acquired both Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul in a week’s time.
Williams’ minutes will go to third-year guard Eric Bledsoe who emerged in the postseason as an impactful player both offensively and defensively.
“I think that Eric played very well for us last year, particularly in the second-half of the season and in the playoffs,” said Roeser. “I see a pretty good role for Eric as we good forward. I think as a first guard off the bench he’ll do terrific.”
The team will try to re-sign Chauncey Billups, bring in free agent guard Jamal Crawford and, according to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Ryan Hollins as a backup center.
There wasn’t any palpable buzz that the Clippers would aggressively chase Dwight Howard. Griffin is about to sign a long-term extension and DeAndre Jordan, a necessary piece L.A. would need to send, has the ability to block any trade until the anniversary of the Clippers matching his offer sheet (given by the Golden State Warriors in December).
The plan is far simpler without Howard and it’s one the team believes they can execute.
In the meantime, Odom has to get his body right. He’s healthy, but not in the kind of condition he’d like to be to play basketball.
“I think it’s important for me to get back into playing shape and to do it here,” said Odom, noting that he was likely to bow out with Team USA and skip the Summer Olympics.
Odom said he’ll spend the rest of the summer with the team, getting ready for the upcoming campaign.
“I feel Lamar will be ready,” said Del Negro.
Behind the Scenes of the Odom Trade
Technically the Clipper organization doesn’t carry a general manager, but the departed Neil Olshey was formerly in that capacity under the title “Vice President of Basketball Operations.”
The team is currently operating with the triumvirate of President Andy Roeser, Coach Vinny Del Negro and Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks – making the Odom/Williams trade, working the draft and plowing through free agency.
Roeser noted that the clear priority for the Clippers was to put together the best possible roster for the coming season, which pushed off the “GM” decision until a later date.
Andy indicated he’d like someone in that role who will be with the organization at least 5-10 years. The team will conduct a thorough search but there’s no guarantee they higher from the outside.
The Clippers are currently field-testing their existing arrangement and the possibility remains that Sacks gets the title at some point down the line.
So how did the Odom trade come to pass? Who would the Mavericks call to make a deal?
“In this particular case, Gary and I walked into the hotel in Chicago [during the pre-draft camp] and we saw [Dallas general manager] Donnie Nelson,” said Roeser. “We initiated a conversation right there just to let them know, ‘If it ever comes to pass where moving Lamar is an option for you, that we would have an interest. We think he’s the ideal player for us.’”
“Even during the season I think we looked at it as an opportunity for our team,” continued Roeser. “Just something in the back of our mind, when it comes to time to building for next year the possibilities could work out. … At that point, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself.”
The next step was finding out where Odom was mentally.
“The only thing you really want to know after that, is it something the players interested in?” said Roeser. “That speaks to their commitment.”
The Clippers may find the trio they have now is functional enough to avoid bringing on another voice, but that remains to be seen.
“The three of us are pursuing things together,” said Roeser. “Some decisions are easier to make than others and I think this one we all believe it’s the right one for us.”
Clearly, the Clippers are happy about what they believe Odom will bring this season.
“I’ve known Lamar his entire career. I think we signed that first contract together in 1999. I’ve had a chance to watch him grow both as a player and a person, and I think he’s evolved into a terrific man and a terrific player,” said Roeser. “This is the right place for him to be at the right time.”
HOOPSWORLD Salary Pages
Now that the 2012-13 NBA year as officially begun, HOOPSWORLD is working diligently to prepare the most detailed team salary pages on the net.
So far four are current although three are waiting for trades to go through before the numbers change in earnest:
There’s plenty more to come…
Extra Clipper Quotes
“It feels great to be back in L.A. It feels great to be back in a Clipper uniform,” said Odom. “I feel like I’m 19. Hopefully I can turn back the clock on the court as well.”
“We had a need for a big man,” said Roeser. “Gary and I and Vinny are satisfied we couldn’t find a better opportunity for us.”
“The one thing that kind of strikes me about Lamar, what a great teammate he is,” said Sacks. “He’s a guy that makes everyone else better on the court and that’s something you hear from everybody he’s ever played with. That’s something that’s going to helps us a lot on the court and off the court.”
“I’ve been here since I was 19-years old. This is the place where I want to finish out my career, hopefully retire and live – raise my children. It means a lot to me to be once again representing the city,” said Odom. “I was 29-years old when my coach came to me and asked me to come off the bench (I was [about to be] a free agent). I came off the bench. I’ve always done whatever was asked of me. I don’t think people will forget that just because of one year – or six months or five months, however long it was.”
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