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Lamar Odom and a vulnerable life

By Matt Moore | NBA writer
Lamar Odom couldn't deal with his personal problems effectively this season. (Getty Images)
You know what the most difficult impulse outside of puns in sports writing is, for me at least? Resisting the victory lap. You operate in a market of predictions, observations, anticipation, forecasting and let's face it, judgment. And if you're not one of those who just blindly ignores all your whiffs and only celebrates your victories, the times you're right are so sweet you want to leap all over them. You want to dive into a pool of self-righteousness like Scrooge McDuck and bask in the warm glow of megasmug.

But you try and resist those opportunities because most time, even when you're right, you're not right for the right reasons, you're right for the wrong reasons.

I was right about Lamar Odom for the wrong reasons.

Among the myriad reasons why the vetoed trade of the Lakers for Chris Paul was a terrible, awful deal for New Orleans, Odom was first and forefront in my concerns.

Odom's career before Los Angeles, like so many players before their era of success, is forgotten in the popular narrative. He's the lovable space-cadet who enjoys candy and brought a versatility to the Lakers of the late 00's that was a big reason they won two titles. Head scratching? Yes. Eccentric? Absolutely. But what gets lost is that Odom was a washout before coming to L.A.. He was part of a Clippers core that is reknown for being as lost in the wilderness as any in that team's illustrious history of terrible cores.

And then, the 2004 season happened. With a Miami core lost to the history of the Lakers, Spurs, and the Heat team formed by the trade for Shaquille O'Neal (for Odom, notably), Odom came into his own. The 2003-2004 Heat team featured Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler, and Lamar Odom and was, for all intents and purposes, set to be the Thunder before the Thunder. Young, versatile, with players that would make you scratch your head but also whom could take on any and all comers, the Heat were poised to be perennial contenders as the core grew together. Under Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy's stricter guidance, Odom was making the most of himself.

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Whoops, traded to the Lakers. And you know how that story goes. A frustrating player until Pau Gasol arrived and then the missing piece. It was there that Odom came into his own. Phil Jackson, the L.A. lifestyle, the gentle hand of Jackson and the cold, hard glare of Kobe Bryant pushed Odom to reach his potential and while he was enver an All-Star, as a sixth man you could do no better.

The lesson? It was this particular combination of elements that Odom seemed to need. He needed guidance, and support, and warm weather, and a fun, eccentric locker room and city that embraced his shy but quirky personality. L.A. was perfect for him.

So when it was suggested that the Hornets should take a deal and then subsequently that the Hornets would have been better off with a player who had struggled mentally, emotionally, and ability-wise in every situation except the perfect basketball paradise built by the Zenmaster and Jerry Buss' money, you can't blame me for a guffaw or ten.

Putting Odom in a rebuilding situation in New Orleans on a small market team without the lights and glamour in a city known for its heartache? Throw up the big ol' red warning signs.

And yet none of that has to do with what happened in Dallas.

With Odom taking an indefinite hiatus from the Mavericks on Monday, there are a number of opinions on why and how and where things went wrong. I'm not going to exhume the number of things that have gone wrong in Odom's personal life over a period of thee years. Check the internet, it will satisfy your needs as always. But the things Odom has wrestled with this season, and which he has allwowed to defeat him, are not insubstantial.

Yes, everyone goes through personal problems and most still have to go to work. But it's just as common that someone can't cope with the issues they're going through and need some time. Some people can lose a loved one, snap back, and be back at work in days. Others it takes time. Stll others have a delayed reaction. We're not in Odom's head. Maybe it is all frustration at not being in L.A. and the distractions of the reality show or this issue or that. The result is the same.

Being a millionaire doesn't make this situation easier enough for Odom. Neither does being a reality television star, a famous celebrity, a star athlete, his mother's son or the excellence of the Mavericks' organization.

Sometimes people simply can't do their jobs as well as they'd like to. Sometimes people just can't get over it, whatever it is. And if that makes them weaker in your eyes, so be it, but it doesn't change the resulting action that must occur.

Odom still gets paid. That's the cost of doing business in the NBA. He can be traded for four months out of the year against his will, he can be cut this season with only part of his contract guaranteed. He can be benched, belittled, injured, or assigned to the D-League. And in return, he gets his money this season no matter what. That may not seem fair compared to most folks' burden, but if we go down that road, we'll all be finding someone else who has it worse. And none of it will heal the problems in Odom's mind and heart, nor his body which has never been in acceptable condition this season.

So, yes, moving Odom out of the warm bosom of the Lakers' excellence was a bad move, and no, it did not work out and yes, Odom shares part of the blame for that as much as anyone. But it's not because he's a space cadet or an incomplete player, or even because he's weak. It's because sometimes bad things happen to people and you cannot predict how people will react. It may have had nothing to do with any of those things. Maybe it had to do with all of them. The answer's always more complex than we suspect.

That's the price of our humanity, something that is all together too often lost as we hunger for wins and losses in the theater of sport.

Some things, to put it simply, are just more important.
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