In what is easily the biggest demotion for a celebrated player of his kind in NBA history, Dallas Mavericks forward (and 2011 Sixth Man of the Year award-winner) Lamar Odom has been sent to the D-League to work his way back into both mental and physical playing shape. Odom, who has never gotten over being nearly traded to the New Orleans Hornets from the Los Angeles Lakers last December, is suffering through a miserable year and will spend at least one game with the Mavs' D-League affiliate in Frisco, Texas. There, he'll be asked to work with former NBA coach Del Harris while playing with the Texas Legends, in hopes of getting his game and head straight following a miserable start to the 2011-12 season.
Odom left the Mavericks last week to care for his ailing father in Los Angeles, and though that absence was excused, his poor play since joining the defending champions has not been. Just one year after acting as the deciding force in several Laker wins, Odom reported to camp out of shape and has looked sluggish and uninterested in most Mavs games. Even though Lamar hit 32 years of age last November, that doesn't excuse his complete inability to finish around the rim, and it's deadening to ardent NBA fans to watch what might be the NBA's most gifted 6-10 forward betray his considerable all-around skills on a team that could clearly do great things with those skills at full mast.
The time spent away from Dallas over the All-Star break, paired with his stint in the D-League (before hopefully returning to the Mavericks next week), will hopefully fix this. This doesn't, sadly, take away from how unprecedented a move this is.
Players have taken time off from teams before because of personal reasons. Players like Dirk Nowitzki have taken time off in the midst of a lockout-shortened season to "recover" from not being in the best of shape. Odom's is a special case, though, and the Mavs are taking a huge risk.
Lamar has long been regarded as a sensitive type, we're right there with him, and the public embarrassment of this demotion (even if it's just for one game with the Legends) may hurt him more than help. Yes, Odom needs all the minutes and shots he can handle while he gets his legs back, but his real frustration is still emanating from that disastrous December that saw the Lakers attempt to trade him to New Orleans (in a three-team deal that would have sent Los Angeles Chris Paul), and then ship him to the defending champs in Dallas for nothing but a trade exception that the Lakers may not even use.
Though his versatile game would seem to be a perfect fit on a Mavs team that swimmingly fits in disparate parts with great ease under coach Rick Carlisle, Odom has shot just 35 percent as a Maverick, including 26 percent from long range. Though he's been afforded 21 minutes a night (potentially more, had Odom performed to his usual standards), Lamar has managed per-game averages of just 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds. Though Lamar clearly loved playing in Los Angeles (a town he has spent all but one of his NBA seasons in, between the Clippers and Lakers), Dallas should have worked as a brilliant second act. Sadly for the Mavs, and NBA fans in general, he just hasn't gotten over last December.
Toss in his father's illness and issues with conditioning, and you have all the makings of a lost year. And though a minor-league demotion might work for a starting pitcher rehabilitating a bum shoulder, or a rookie point guard stuck on the end of an NBA bench, it's hard to see how this sort of designation will help a thoughtful and frustrated Odom as he seeks to find his way.
We're hoping it works, though. We miss watching the Lamar Odom that we've seen for over a decade. We doubt it will, but it would be fantastic if this short D-League stint does wonders for Odom's mesmerizing all-around game.
Keep calm and carry on, LO.
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