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Ball Don't Lie

Lamar Odom’s former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has his back: ‘Lamar can still play’

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Lamar Odom and Vinny Del Negro during ... 'happier' times? (Getty Images)

If the allegations are true, and Lamar Odom was swerving around the 101 in Los Angeles last week while impaired behind the wheel, then he deserves our scorn.

If the allegations are true, and Lamar Odom has been turning to narcotics during the offseason, then he deserves treatment, and patience.

Does the man deserve an NBA job? One unnamed league executive was quoted last week as saying that Odom “can’t play anymore,” which isn’t that unfair a lob directed at someone who has shot 35 and 39 percent over the last two seasons, someone that will turn 34 a month into the NBA’s 2013-14 term. Still, the idea that Lamar Odom is bereft of basketball skill seems to be a bit of a stretch, even after two terrible seasons.

The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Dwyre, in a rare pro-Odom column (save for this one, from this Dwyer), spoke with his coach from 2012-13 to gauge just where Lamar’s NBA prospects are right now. Former Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who has no real reason to triumph the potential of a free agent who did not play well for their ex-employers last year, is still cognizant of the fact that even Lamar Odom can turn this around:

"He is a good guy, a good teammate," Del Negro said from his home in Phoenix. "Everybody liked him. There were no issues.

"I understand he is going through a lot right now. It is never easy. He has always had some difficult obstacles and they weigh on him a lot. You feel bad, but you hope he is all right."

Odom will be 34 in November. Yet Del Negro, whose contract wasn't renewed after last season and who probably will be doing television commentary this season, disagrees with the "senior executive of an NBA team."

"Lamar can still play," he said. "It's not the basketball skills that are the problem. Once he gets himself in shape and gets his mind wrapped around basketball, he can help somebody."

Dwyre went on to call Odom’s 2012-13 season with the Clippers “mediocre,” and though I respect the man’s last name and journo integrity, I could not disagree more. Managing to make fewer than 40 percent of your shots, tossing in only 7.4 points per 36 minutes, a 10.9 Player Efficiency Rating (based mostly on his rebounding, which I believe PER overrates)? These aren’t hallmarks of a mediocre, middling player. These are hallmarks of a bad season. A terrible season, if one’s potential is taken into account.

Terrible season aside, Vinny Del Negro – and long time readers can appreciate how much it takes for me to finish a sentence like this – isn’t wrong. The executive that went over the top about his basketball skills? He was wrong. Lamar Odom can still play, but only if he wants to. There’s no reason that 6-10 Lamar Odom can’t play for several more years, working as some sort of less-accurate Sam Perkins with improved passing and rebounding acumen. It’s Lamar Odom’s commitment to the game that is getting in the way since the Dallas Mavericks swept the Los Angeles Lakers in May of 2011.

The skills have never gone away. Lamar Odom, for whatever reason (be it tangible or tawdry or trumped-up), just hasn’t done what he’s needed to do to take the skills that made him the NBA’s top Sixth Man some 28 months ago and apply them. Players, even at Odom’s age, just don’t fall off the way Lamar Odom has since 2010-11. Still, you can’t question Lamar’s skills and potential even past his probable prime.

You can just, sadly, question the motivation. On-court, or off. A repeated ending note for each of these sorts of columns over the last two years, one that we hope doesn’t carry over to the last column we write about Lamar Odom, the Basketball Player.

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