Aside from Sasha "Broken Machine" Vujacic, Lamar Odom is that Laker that Lakers fans love to hate. Okay, maybe that's a bit too harsh. We don't really hate him. In fact, by all accounts he's a great guy, the most well-liked guy on the team, and a joy of a person – and as a person, I'm sure most if not all Lakers fans join me in thinking very highly of Odom.
But as a basketball player, he can be as frustrating as it gets. At times, he's even more frustrating than Kwame Brown once was – not because he's as bad as Kwame was, but because he should be so much better. He has the physical talent and skills to be a matchup nightmare for virtually any team in the NBA. But far too often, he simply disappears, playing below his ability and not really leaving his mark on the game at all. That would be bad enough, if it weren't for those stretches when he truly dominates – during those moments, exasperated Lakers fans ask their ceilings in loud voice why, oh why, Odom can't play like that more often.
The other day, however, my wife provided some interesting perspective. At least in these playoffs, is it possible that we're being unfair in our criticism of Odom? Does Odom deserve a break?
After his recent candy obsession was exposed, I decided that I'll refer to the disappointing Odom as "LO," and the dominant Odom as "the Candyman" — and in these playoffs, we've seen some of both. During much of the early rounds, he has been invisible. He has showed up here and there, but largely been limited in his effect. But in Games 5 and 6 against the Nuggets, the Candyman showed up, and he was a huge factor for the Lakers.
Fans, frustrated as always, are praying to their purple and gold gods that the Candyman is here to stay, and that we won't see LO again until next season.
After Game 6, my wife reminded me of the following scene:
This fall scared the living daylights out of me; it had the potential to be a devastatingly serious injury. Fortunately, Odom has been able to continue playing. After two solid games from the Candyman, my wife pointed out how impressive it was that he was playing so well with a back injury.
Of course, the commentators had mentioned that here and there, throughout the series, and especially when he played well. But my wife struggles with back problems, and that really brought it home for me. When the muscles in her back tighten up and give her issues, she's in a lot of pain. Physical activity? Out of the question. She can't work out, not only because it hurts, but because it is likely to cause even more serious injury.
Trust me, she and I workout pretty hard when we do, but the intensity of our workouts is nothing compared to the physicality of an NBA game. In this light, I'm particularly impressed with Odom's recent play, and I'm also keenly aware of the fact that every game he plays, he risks further injury.
Let's face it: We Lakers fans are spoiled, having constantly seen the toughest, most pain-tolerant player in the game (and perhaps ever) take the court throughout all sorts of very painful injuries – and dominate. But maybe it's only fair to hold Odom to a human standard, rather than a Kobe Bryant standard. So you tell me – in light of his ongoing injury, does Lamar Odom deserve a break? And if not a break, then at least a bit more respect...