Ex-Clipper signs with Heat for 6 years
The fourth overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft officially joined the Heat on Wednesday, signing a six-year, $65 million contract after the Los Angeles Clippers declined to match the offer.
After four rocky years with the Clippers, Odom said it was time to move on and turn his career around somewhere else.
"I thought it was time to find something new," Odom said at a news conference Wednesday. "Being here is a great opportunity for me to prove all the doubters wrong. I don't think nobody's doubting I can play basketball. They're making doubts on other things."
While Odom's playing skills leave few questions -- he averaged 15.9 points in his first four seasons -- the 23-year-old's off-the-court behavior has been a source of criticism.
The 6-foot-10, 221-pound swingman was suspended for eight games in November after violating the league's anti-drug policy. He also served a five-game drug suspension in March 2001.
Heat coach Pat Riley said he believes in Odom.
"He's mature enough now to take care of business," Riley said. "His health, his family and his team, that's what this is about. He has a great opportunity here to show what he believes he can become."
The Clippers did match a six-year, $82.2 million offer the Heat signed Elton Brand to earlier this offseason, but passed on doing the same with Miami's deal to Odom. Clippers vice president Elgin Baylor based the decision "on issues of character and other risks involved."
The words stung, Odom said.
"It took a little wind out of me. ... I think they had to give a reason why they didn't do it," Odom said.
Odom played only one college season at Rhode Island before entering the NBA as a 19-year-old in 1999. He said he's learned from his troubles.
"A lot of it was immaturity on my part," Odom said. "We're all products of our environment. The key is not to fall. I just wasn't focused enough. I was immature. A lot was happening fast."
Odom's signing represents the first significant offseason acquisition the Heat have made this offseason, as they try to re-enter the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
After missing the playoffs the past two seasons and losing star center Alonzo Mourning to the New Jersey Nets, the Heat now seem to have a solid young core with Odom joining swingman Caron Butler and guard Dwyane Wade, the No. 5 pick in this year's draft, plus shooting guard Eddie Jones.
"The fact that he was 23 years old and the fact that he has this kind of talent and the fact that we needed to make this kind of a move were the driving forces behind it," Riley said. "I think it puts us into a contending position."
Odom, who appears to have become stronger this offseason, said he has fully recovered from wrist and ankle injuries that limited him to playing in only 78 games over the past two seasons.
"My goal now is to make the Miami Heat organization proud of Lamar Odom," he said.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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