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Lamar Odom: From Insufferable to Invaluable

By now, hopefully you have heard the news. It was inevitable from the start, and you know that my official position on the entire "saga" has been that it was pure media hype and negotiation leverage. Nonetheless, in an anything-can-happen league, it feels good to have Odom safely and securely back in the fold.

With this, the Lakers and their fans can finally begin to look forward. It's time to think about the 2009-10 season, and what it holds in store for the Purple and Gold. In the days and weeks to come, we'll be gearing up to do just that. For now, let's just take a moment to appreciate Lamar Odom, and to be glad that this was nothing more than intense negotiation maneuvering.

Read on...

What would you say if I told you that just a couple months ago, I admitted that I didn't want Odom back with the Lakers next year? As late as the first couple rounds of the playoffs, in my mind he needed to be either traded or let go.

How could I think such a thing? It's simple (or it was). As a person, I have tremendous respect for Lamar Odom. Individually, he is clearly one of the best guys in the league, and someone it would truly be an honor to know — not necessarily something that can often be said of pro athletes or celebrities (especially those who reside in Los Angeles). As a player, I've seen him step up time and time again, the most recent example being his incredible play when Andrew Bynum once again went down with a major injury.

But in my mind, none of that mattered if he disappeared when it mattered most. I don't care how incredible Odom is on the court in February and March; if he can't do that in May and June, it's all for nothing. He builds our hopes up and then leaves us hanging in the playoffs, when it actually counts.

Or so it seemed.

What — can't a guy be wrong, from time to time? Hey, I may pretend to know a few things about NBA basketball, but I still reserve the right to be completely and profoundly out-of-my-mind wrong, every now and then.

The funny thing is that if I had said as much publicly, at the time, a great many Lakers fans would have agreed vociferously with me. A few weeks later, I and all those who would have agreed with me clearly considered retaining Lamar Odom to Priority No. 1, an absolute non-negotiable.

Who knows what happened in between? Well, Lamar Odom stepped up hugely for the Lakers in May and (especially) June, playing a vital role in our beloved franchise winning its 15th championship. That's what happened. But beneath that, underneath the surface... who knows what happened?

Maybe Lamar Odom had a basketball epiphany. Maybe he "figured it out," broke through that wall that had been holding him back, conquered his demons. Maybe it clicked for him. Is it possible for a basketball player to struggle, perhaps for years, and then finally make a breakthrough, figuring out how to deliver on the biggest stage in a way that he never again loses? Is it possible that finally being able to deliver for his team when it mattered and help them win a championship can be such a breakthrough moment that it affects not only that moment, that series, but the rest of his career, as well? I believe it's possible. And maybe Odom had that extended moment in these playoffs. And maybe, having figured out how to get there, how to do it, he'll never appear clueless again.

Or maybe things were just different. Maybe Odom played just as hard, with just as much intensity, drive and determination, as he did a year ago, and as he has throughout his career. Maybe there is no such thing as a player who can't be denied (i.e., Kobe), or a player who doesn't have it (i.e., T-Mac). Maybe it's as simple as sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. After all, isn't most of life that way? I don't know why basketball should be any different.

So maybe nothing changed with Odom. Maybe he was never to blame for past performances that appeared, to us, to fall short. Maybe this time it just worked — he got the breaks, things went his way, and instead of losing, he won. Maybe all that changed was the results, and with them, of course, our perceptions of his play that led to those results.

I suppose it doesn't matter. What we do know is that the Lakers would have had a much harder time winning the 2009 NBA Championship without Odom than they did with him. Perhaps they wouldn't have won it at all. And somewhere along the line, we realized that despite his mercurial tendencies, Lamar Odom is indispensable to this Lakers team.

He is a strong, tough leader, who has been through more in life than most of his pampered co-workers. His spirit and his attitude are a beacon of light in an industry that could use more of it. The leadership he brings, the attitude he inspires, and the atmosphere he creates around him — these are all things the Lakers cannot do without. And of course, it doesn't hurt that his physical abilities and skills are a nightmare for virtually any opponent.

For all these reasons and more, it has always been inevitable that Lamar Odom would suit up in Purple and Gold this fall. Welcome back, Lamar — we're glad you're still here, and I think I speak for most when I say that we hope you retire in a Lakers jersey.

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