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Ex-Clipper signs with Heat for 6 years

MIAMI -- Lamar Odom says he's ready to turn his career
around. The Miami Heat believe him.

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.