Commentary

Odom: bench leader or team leader?

Updated: December 23, 2009, 5:29 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPN Los Angeles

First Lamar Odom squeezed his hands together like he was kneading a clump of dough and then pounded his left fist into his right palm like a catcher angrily reacting to his pitcher's giving up a home run.

Seeing Odom look this tense in the locker room is about as rare a sight as spotting Allen Iverson in a suit and tie.

It doesn't happen.

What could possibly get the man who was singing Bone Thugs~N~Harmony and slapping teammates on the backside in Detroit's visiting dressing room Sunday to look like he was ready to fight before L.A. hosted Oklahoma City on Tuesday?

"It's my one pet peeve since I've been a Laker," Odom said. "When we have a lead and especially when Kobe gets taken out of the game and he has to come back in the game I'll be frustrated. It shows weakness in our team."

Against the Pistons, Odom and his second-string crew let what was once a 21-point Los Angeles lead dwindle down to eight in the fourth quarter. Kobe (and Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher) had to take off the towels, unwrap the ice and save the day.

So there it is. This Lakers squad, which outscored a rambunctious Thunder team by 13 in the third quarter Tuesday and held on to win 111-108, actually does have a weakness.

The problem, if you can call it a problem, is that the Lakers never seem to learn their lesson from close calls like the one against the Pistons because they do have Kobe's brilliance (he had another 40-point game against Oklahoma City) to rely on. They do have Pau's dominance to bail them out. They do have Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum in the front line, capable of taking over at any moment.

Nevertheless, Phil Jackson used the mini Motown letdown, coupled with a reminder of Chicago's recent 35-point disaster against Sacramento, as a teaching tool and brought the team in for practice instead of granting a customary day off that usually follows an extended road trip.

But if failure is the best teacher, can L.A.'s bench really improve for good just by practice and film sessions and without having a complete and utter Bulls-like meltdown of its own first?

Odom thinks it can, and it's become his Casablanca-inspired message he tries to get across any chance he gets. If the bench doesn't come in and do their job, it's going to cost the team.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

It puts Odom in an interesting spot, however. On Tuesday, after Odom finished with 12 points and nine rebounds but shot just 3-for-11 in doing so, Jackson said, "I like to see an aggressive Lamar play basketball."

When L.A.'s bench is starting to lose grip of a game, Odom is the type of player who is talented enough to gain the momentum back on his own. Odom said he knows he can get his points, but he thinks those points would help the team more in the long run if they were distributed among the rest of his second-string comrades.

There's a reason he's averaging less than 10 points per game for the first time in his career. It's not the cumulative wear and tear that 11 seasons in the league have had on his 30-year-old body, either.

He's been accused of being too unselfish in the past, for not attacking with his 6-foot-10, 230-pound, 7-foot-1 wing-spanned body, but this time the passive play is anything but. It's an active decision by Odom not to score.

"I won't go out there and dominate the ball," Odom said. "I'm trying for us to try to do it with all of us together at the same time. If not [together], then it won't work. That's my theory with it. If we don't all hold hands and walk across the threshold together, then we're going to fail."

Ron Artest just says it's his old New York buddy who's sacrificing for a team, and sees no problem with any of it.

"We've only lost four games, right?" Artest asked, incredulously.

While Odom wants everybody to play together, he conceded that it's easy for him to take up that stance because he has already made astronomical amounts of money in the league. The rest of his bench partners haven't.

"You can't help it," Odom said. "You're supposed to want to make your mark and try to get paid."

The teammates he refers to by situation rather than name are Jordan Farmar, playing in the final year of his rookie contract; Shannon Brown, playing a one-year deal with a player option that he would rather not have to use if a big season caused the free-agent market to come calling; and Josh Powell and D.J. Mbenga, both signed to one-year deals for the league minimum.

The problem is, his generosity may be costing the team.