The NBA season's first Battle for Los Angeles takes place on Friday night, as the Los Angeles Clippers "visit" the Staples Center looking to move to 2-0 at the expense of a Los Angeles Lakers team that has dropped its opening two contests and would prefer it if y'all would just hush about it. With all the headlines generated by the Lakers' offseason acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, many observers' eyes have focused on what the perennial purple-and-gold big brother needs to do to get back on the right track, with relatively little attention paid to the Clips' strong season-opening win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
For their part, the Clippers — fresh off a second-round playoff run, having added offseason depth of their own and still boasting one of the league's top one-two punches in the All-NBA tandem of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — seem pretty sick of answering questions about the Lakers. Griffin told USA Today's Sam Amick that the Clips are "not concerned about the Lakers and what they're doing," while center DeAndre Jordan told Dan Woike at the Orange County Register that the "annoying" deluge of Laker-oriented questions "gets boring after awhile." As one of the team's longest-tenured pros sees it, though, all the focus on matching up against the Lakers offers an opportunity to use the game as both a measuring stick for the Clips' own development and a learning experience on the journey toward a deeper postseason run this year.
Which sage ol' Clip dropped these jewels? Seventeen-year vet Grant Hill, perhaps? Or maybe ring-bearing elder statesman Chauncey Billups? No, dummy. It was Lamar Odom, and he had more wisdom to share, according to Woike at the Register:
"You need something to look up to, even if you don't want to admit it. You need something to kind of reach for," Odom said. "When people think about that, it should set a goal. The goal is to help start that tradition and to be able to change [the] way the team, the players and the organization is looked at."
Odom said he hopes to hammer that point home Friday by giving each of his teammates a book on goal-setting before the game — a tactic he's borrowing from his former coach, Phil Jackson.
"To be on the same page and the same wavelength is important," Odom said. "Whether you're meditating or talking or reading the same book, it helps. We pray together. It helps for everyone to be on the same page."
Jackson — who coached Odom to consecutive NBA titles with the Lakers in 2008-09 and 2009-10, as well as a 2010-11 season that saw Lamar play perhaps the best all-around ball of his career en route to winning the league's Sixth Man of the Year Award — has long been renowned for his practice of giving his players books to read as they set out on long winter road trips, ranging from biographies and novels to short-story collections and tomes on strategy. While Odom's approach to team-building involves everyone reading the same book rather than more closely following Jackson's lead and passing out a variety of goal-setting titles — I mean, there certainly appears to be quite a number of 'em — it's a pretty cool forward-looking, focus-sharpening idea, and a nice bit of veteran leadership from the only Clipper to have won multiple Larry O'Brien trophies (Billups, Caron Butler and Ronny Turiaf each have one).
Still, it feels very weird to be hearing about how Odom is super into setting goals, getting motivated and striving for greatness after his utter inability to do any of those three things led the Dallas Mavericks' front office to send him home with a full month left in the regular season and his Mavs teammates to deny him a playoff share that, given his dismal 50-game turn, few would argue he earned.
It's especially weird given that Odom kicked off his second stint with the Clippers by reportedly coming into training camp out of shape, spurring coach Vinny Del Negro to curtail Odom's preseason activity until he worked his way into better shape, for fear of placing too much strain on the 13-year vet's bone-bruised knees. While he's certainly been the kind of player willing to work hard and take a backseat for the good of the team in the past, relatively little Odom's done since the Lakers' failed attempt to trade him to the New Orleans Hornets as part of a package that would have netted Chris Paul — a deal famously vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern, leading to Paul's subsequent shuttling to the Clippers, a scorned Odom demanding an exit from L.A., his move to Dallas and all the rancor that followed — has seemed very goal-driven, focused or team-oriented.
Since returning to practice a few days before the start of the season, though, the early reports on Lamar have been positive. While his 16-plus minutes of floor time in the season-opening win over the Grizzlies featured some uneven play and three turnovers, it also saw Odom hitting the glass (six rebounds) and expending defensive effort, which encouraged Steve Perrin of Clips Nation:
Odom [...] showed a level of motivation that has to make everyone feel more comfortable. Consider this — the entire season in Dallas last year, Lamar had one game in which he had more than one blocked shot (he had three once). Tonight, in 17 minutes, he blocked four shots, and almost had a couple more where he got the ball but was called for a foul. [...] There's still a long way to go, but if motivation was the big worry, Lamar did a lot tonight to allay those fears.
Between burning calories on the court and trying to keep his teammates focused in the locker room, this certainly seems like about as encouraging a start to the season as one could have expected for Odom, a player many figured would fizzle at best and flame out at worst. As long as he the goal-setting books don't turn out to be "Kardashian Konfidential" or "Dollhouse: A Novel," this could be the start of a resurgent year for Lamar; the onus, as ever, is on him.