Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lamar Odom: The Missing Piece That Never Fit

Lamar Odom - The Goods, The CandyMan, The Enigma.

Riddle Me This, Candy-Man:

Lamar Odom's life has always paralleled that of a misshapen puzzle piece. Like an out-of-place segment with too many jutting curves, Odom has always been such an enigmatic player - so diverse in his skill-set that nobody could ever quite peg down his true player-type or properly define his game. His coaches have forever tried utilizing him in a variety of different ways: playing him here, playing him there - always hoping that he would somehow develop into the missing piece they needed. Analysts, on the other hand, continually went crazy over how such a creative talent as Odom could simply coast through entire seasons without scoring 30 points at least once a month (or even once a season). For fans, his consistent inconsistency and lackadaisical style of play simply drove them nuts...while Odom simply continued to drive left...and eat nuts (the candied variety). Perfect piece to the puzzle? Hardly; he seemed more like the stray piece to an entirely different one altogether. In the end, many will agree that such an analogous depiction of Odom has always extended far past the figurative comparisons and straight into the literal. Because for most everyone, Lamar Odom has always been, quite literally...puzzling.

Nowadays however, many will concur that he represents a good, unique kind of puzzling. For as frustrating as Odom can be for the team that has him on its roster, opposing teams who don't have him on theirs are equally as frustrated when it comes to defending him. And it's been that way ever since Lamar Odom entered the league...or started dribbling a basketball...or realized he was ridiculously long, lanky, and tall...or started referring to himself in third person...or realized candy was sweet. You get the 'picture'. But let's backtrack first, redo that horrible in-bounds pass with Lamar, and reevaluate the history of an enigmatic player who went from underrated puzzlement to well-deserved underrated-ness... in the 'bling' of an eye.

I'm in L.A., trick. I'm in Miami, trick:

Lamar's Game Winner in Rhode Island. Let the hype begin.

Coming out of Rhode Island and being drafted at #4 by the Clippers in 1999, Lamar Odom was immediately touted as a dynamic, game-changing player that one could build an entire franchise around. Odom was 6'10, with the lanky arms of an adept rebounder, the inherent mentality (and occasional ability) to hit threes like a dead-eye shooter, and the court vision and handles like that of a premiere point guard. His rookie numbers? Try 17 ppg, 8 reb, 4 assts, 1 stl, 1 blk, 36% 3pt. Numbers of a star. There was definitely nothing puzzling about those numbers, but up-and-coming stars usually tend to top their own impressive starts year-by-year, not plateau out as Odom eventually did. He showed flashes in his first few years in red and blue, but after awhile (after some unfortunate injury-riddled seasons and continual underwhelming performances), it became apparent that, even for the struggling Clippers of the early 2000's, Odom simply was not built to be the dynamic franchise player that everyone was demanding him to be.

As his rookie contract ran out, the Clippers inevitably turned their eyes away from Odom and set their sights towards more established franchise-pieces such as Elton Brand, allowing other teams like the Heat to take their own chances with the high-risk forward. The Heat did just that in 2003, signing him to a lucrative contract and bringing him to the warmer beaches of Miami (I'll make this quick in sensitivity to all of our recent apprehensive indignations towards a Heat-Wade Summer), a place where he experienced one of the most efficient and noteworthy campaigns of his career. For the first time, he confidently and successfully took on the role as the designated team leader, legitimately almost making the all-star team and nearly leading a young core of Dwayne Wade and Caron Butler to the eastern conference finals. It was a 'revival by Heat' of sorts, but just when he thought he had finallyfound his niche, he was sent packing once again back to Los Angeles - except this time, it was with the legendary Purple & Gold.

I'm in L.A., trick...again:

As if he hadn't been burdened enough with high expectations in the past...He was always expected to be the star, but a star on teams like the Clippers and the Heat (no disrespect). This was Kobe and the Lakers. Careers rose or fell based on championship involvement(or lack thereof). Somewhat fittingly at the time, the Shaq trade to Miami was remembered more by Laker fans as the deal that failed to include Dwayne Wade than the deal that garnered them Caron Butler and Lamar Odom. Typical Odom neglect. (Sorry, Brian Grant.)

Where the eff is Wade...

And it was neglect (and a larger feeling of disdain) that Odom would receive from Laker fans during much of his early years with the Lakers, as he and Kobe failed to mesh and, more importantly, make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

When the Lakers traded Caron Butler away to the Wizards and watched him blossom into an all-star, many wondered why the Lakers hadn't kept Butler and traded away Lamar Odom instead. In Washington, Caron Butler was seemingly morphing into the exact Scottie Pippen type player that people had always dreamed of pairing Kobe with, while Odom was simply becoming more and more known as the dead-weight player that took Dwayne Wade's spot in the Shaquille O'neal trade. It also didn't help that the guy the Lakers got in return for Butler was the great KwaMAY Brown, starting power forward for the Sucklahoma City Busts alongside Darko Milicic and Michael Olowakandi. Regardless, it became very clear during Odom's earlier tenure with the Purple & Gold that the Scottie Pippen/Magic Johnson labels continually being tacked onto him were never going to stick (his candy always had a better chance of sticking to him than those lofty comparisons).

Supporting Greatness:

Everything changed in 2008 when Pau Gasol got traded to the Lakers and Odom went from being second option failure to... role player (and eventually) bench player extraordinaire. For the first time in his career, even while Odom's stats dropped significantly across the board (from 14 pts to 11, 10 reb. to 8), fans finally began recognizing just how significant his contributions truly were to a burgeoning Laker team vying for contention. He literally did what was best for the team in every situation. Whether it was taking a backseat and letting his stats slip for the betterment of a deep, developing Laker squad, or being completely ready to take over the reigns as the starting power forward once Andrew Bynum went down (and doing a better job of it too), Odom once again displayed that stats never truly tell the entire story when it comes to describing true value.

In the latter part of the playoffs this year, and especially these past Finals, Odom stopped coasting and showed the world what a true force he can be on the court when he plays with a little more sustained focus and intensity. For once, instead of relying solely on his God-given talent to do just enough to get by, he relied on his God-given heart (the same heart that got him through two horrific deaths in his life) to summon forth his utmost effort night-in and night-out, despite also battling against an excruciatingly sore back, to play some of his best, most inspired ball during the latter part of the Lakers' playoff run. Through his gritty perseverance, Odom helped turn the Lakers' 'soft' label around by providing a much-needed toughness to a team constantly in search of brave souls (besides Bryant) who were willing to stand in the trenches and get their hands dirty.

In winning his first ever NBA title this past June, Odom displayed his true versatility in more ways than one - not only in his ability to play multiple positions on the court and display a full repertoire of skills, but in his ability to do whatever was asked of him to perfection. Coming into the NBA, he was supposed to be the go-to guy who could do it all, and when he showed everyone how effective he could be at doing less, we now realize...he can do it all. We were just focusing too much on the flashier statistics and honors to realize it back then.

The True Heart of a Candy-Man:

In reality, outside of adding a little more mental toughness and overall intensity to his play, Odom hasn't really done anything revolutionary to his game which he hasn't already done in any of his previous years with the Lakers. It just didn't work out back then because those previous Laker teams (Smush Parker, Kwame Brown, Brian Cook) needed him to perfect his scoring game, even when he had already perfected filling up every other statistical category in the game (including the weirdest turn-overs stat). And while a little more consistency and overall focus can always be asked of Odom, it's hard to stay mad at such a silly, down-to-earth personality who, despite all of his life struggles, has continued to live his life like a carefree, A.D.D. child who continually sees a more optimistic, hopeful scenario to every obstacle placed in front of him.

Odom brings so many small intangibles to the game whenever he's on the court, but his contributions often go under-appreciated because the fans and the media want what's tangible - and that usually means high scoring statistics and eye-grabbing highlight plays they can cling unto. But Odom has never been and never will be that dominant 20 pt scorer that people have always clamored for, even though he could probably avg 20pts in his sleep if he truly wanted to. He's that talented without trying, and maybe that's what's frustrated people the most about him - that someone with as much natural talent as Lamar Odom could never quite connect all the dots and fulfill his true potential as the complete NBA star that everyone else saw in him.

Things Hit A Sour Patch, But All things End Sweet for L.A.:

This past July, after experiencing what it's like for the first time to not have 100% clarity over Odom's future as a Laker for life, Laker fans can all humbly admit that they've greatly taken his presence here in L.A. for granted. Every summer since he's joined the team, Lamar Odom has always been the main trading chip that fans wanted to parlay over to other teams in exchange for more proven stars. Now he's the guy everyone wants to keep and secretly, we're terrified at the thought of seeing him in another jersey against us. And while at times, overall negotiations and even Lamar himself were as frustrating and puzzling as he's always been, Lakers' fans all knew inside that they did not want to lose such a solid, upstanding human being, much less a solid, versatile basketball player.

I want to win 6,7,8,9,10 more titles. (We always knew you'd play till 40.)

Fortunately for everyone repping P&G, cooler heads prevailed this Summer and the Lakers and L.O. sour-patched things up to meet in the middle, as Odom once again played his role to perfection by ultimately sacrificing himself for the betterment of the team. Except this time, his acts of humble unselfishness had nothing to do with basketball courts or playing time. In the end, Odom sacrificed not only his money, but a part of his pride as well, never opting to take things personally during negotiations even though inside, he was definitely hurt by Buss's first offer withdrawal. Despite what others may say, Lamar Odom was definitely the bigger man this Summer; as he usually always has been. Instead of confiscating tapes, eating Vaseline, blaming it on the devil, or crying and immediately jetting to Miami with Will Smith, Odom saw the bigger picture - the winning one. And Laker fans could not have been more overjoyed by that fact, as he finally re-signed with the Lake-Show on the 30th of July. Today, the only 'Lamar Sucks' insults you'll hear from Laker fans will be the ones accompanied by the word 'lollipop' at the end.

World Piece - World Championship Piece:

Kung Fu Panda's Furious Five Has Got Nothin' On Ours.

He's the piece that can seemingly fit into a number of different spots on the puzzle board, but can never quite fit into that one spot when you actually try. It's because of this reason that he's usually disregarded and kept to the side while the more important, less complicated pieces are assembled first. For too long, teams including the Lakers have tried fitting Odom into the more focal spots near the center of the puzzle board - even when his true place has always been near the corners. While we all know full well who the central pieces are going to be on the team this upcoming season(Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Artest), we now also realize that the complementary corners are going to be the main points of difference by which sustained success shall hinge upon - especially when people are always so easily drawn to the more dynamic center to even notice just how important the supporting borders truly are. Today, Odom is no longer regarded as the confusing piece that never fit, but as the missing one that completes the whole picture - a picture that looks a whole lot like a championship dynasty with him in place. After all, he does want "6,7..8,9,10 more championships."

I have a feeling...that this year's gonna be a good, good year. Thank you Black-Eyed Peas.

The Fridge Is No Longer Puzzled,
Jonathan Hernandez (Chick's Fridge)


  1. Great read Jonathan. You've encompassed Lamar Odom's career very well. I must admit that I was a LO hater. I mean the guy could never make a lay up, or a three point jumper. The guy was never a consistent number two option behind Kobe Bryant. I felt that the best way to utilize his talents would be for the Lakers to trade him to a team where he would be the number one option or point-forward to direct a team (ala Magic Johnson).

    Then, Pau Gasol came and his role was clear. He was a number three option. Now, he might be a fourth or a fifth option with Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest on the team, but his role has been solidified. He gets a lot of his points now on hustle put-backs and cutting to the basket. He plays off ball way more than he has in his entire career and he's found a niche doing it.

    Odom has said he would be satisfied becoming a Dennis Rodman type, where he would just worry about defense and rebounding, and if that's the case, then the rest of the NBA better watch out, because the Lakers are looking to repeat!

  2. thanks a lot man! yeah, odom missing ridiculously open/easy lay-ups could always be a drag. it's crazy now how he makes harder/more difficult ones off putbacks.