Lamar Odom slices and dices
The versatile Lakers reserve and starter makes a good case for Sixth Man of the Year
The Los Angeles Lakers might have had to dip deep into the luxury tax when they re-signed Lamar Odom to a four-year deal worth $33 million in the summer of 2009, but like a product hawked in infomercials promising two functions for the price of one, the Lakers got themselves a bargain.
There's Odom the starter who fills in for Andrew Bynum whenever the big man succumbs to an injury. On Sunday it was a suspension that sidelined Bynum, and Odom responded with 16 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals while starting in his place.
He'll get the starting nod again Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns as Bynum finishes his two-game ban.
Then there's Odom the substitute who serves as the leader of the Lakers' second unit. He'll often play forward on defense and play a guard role on offense, organizing the triangle with the starters out of the game.
Now 31 years old and in his 12th season, he's pulling off both roles as well as he has through his entire career.
"He's been very productive," said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson after practice Monday. "[He's] invaluable. We made a decision as an organization two years ago to sign Lamar, which put us into a difficult cap situation, yet we were convinced that without him we wouldn't win a championship again.
"That was a good decision by the organization."
Odom is averaging 15.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a starter this season and 13 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists coming off the bench this season. He ranks eighth in the league in field goal percentage (53.8) and 11th in total rebounds (609).
"Right now at this point of the year, at this time, I swear it doesn't [change anything for me]," Odom said when asked about moving from wearing his warm-ups during tipoff to having his name announced as a starter by Lawrence Tanter. "Because it's all about winning games. I'm just going out there and doing what I have to do to help the team win games. So rebound, assist, play hard, play smart. I don't think it changes at all."
He started the first 24 games of the season when Bynum was injured and continued for the next seven when Bynum first came back and was coming off the bench.
Odom wasn't called on to start again for more than a month until Bynum sat out a game against Houston with a bone bruise in his left knee. All Odom did that night was go off for 20 points and 20 rebounds, while playing 49 minutes in an overtime victory against the Rockets.
"He shifts really well from one role to the other and one position to the other," Pau Gasol said. "I think he's just that kind of guy; he's just very adjustable. He doesn't take it personal. He understands the needs of the team and he does everything for the benefit of the team. It's really a positive scenario that he's just so good and easygoing."
Odom's effort against Portland was nothing new. Last week when the Lakers beat Orlando, Odom nearly matched those numbers, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds while playing nine fewer minutes and coming off the bench.
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"It's a big advantage for us," Kobe Bryant said. "We got an All-Star that's willing to come in off the bench. It makes us a much better ballclub."
Actually, Odom has never been named an All-Star. His campaign to finally make it last month when L.A. was the host city for the All-Star Game fell short. But he is in line for another distinction this season: the Sixth Man of the Year award.
"I started thinking of the [Jamal] Crawfords and various people who have been Sixth Man of the Year," said Jackson, who coached Toni Kukoc when he won the award with Chicago in 1995-96. "There's a number of candidates, but I'm sure Lamar is right up there at the top I hope it works [for him]."
Maurice Brooks' Awards Watch column on ESPN.com places Odom fourth in the running behind Dallas' Jason Terry (who won it in 2008-09), Atlanta's Crawford (who won it last year) and Philadelphia's Lou Williams.
The only eligibility requirement for a player to win the award is to come off the bench in more games than he starts. That will be no problem for Odom as long as Bynum is healthy enough to start the final 11 games of the season after his suspension is finished. So far, Odom has been a substitute in 37 games this season, while starting 33.
It's been a remarkable nine-month run for Odom that started with an NBA championship in June, continued with a gold medal in September at the FIBA World Championship while playing for USA Basketball and a reality TV show with wife Khloe Kardashian that is set to debut on E! in April. The Sixth Man award and a three-peat title could follow before his year-long odyssey is through.
"Playing this year [with USA Basketball] has prepared me to play tired, to play fatigued," Odom said. "It's going to make me stronger mentally, I think."
He added, "Some of us have other jobs other than basketball as well," alluding to his TV filming schedule.
Odom the starter, Odom the substitute, Odom the reality TV star -- what's one more role on this guy's plate? He slices, he dices, he also makes julienne fries, after all.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.