Sixth Sense: Odom Less Than Thrilled About Not Being a StarterThe number one issue facing the Lakers this season--assuming, of course, that Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are healthy--is Lamar Odom's role. The mercurial forward is not pleased about talk that he will be the team's sixth man. Informed that Hall of Fame Coach Phil Jackson wants to bring him off of the bench, Odom declared, "He must have woke up and bumped his head. He probably hit his head on something--boom. To start off like that, you've got to be out of your...mind."
While some people believe that the return to health of Andrew Bynum automatically will enable the Lakers to win multiple titles, after game six of the Finals I wrote, "All of the talk about a Lakers' dynasty in the making is extremely premature. Andrew Bynum has yet to put together half a season's worth of productive NBA games, let alone prove that he can be a reliable playoff performer. When--if--he fully returns to health he can give the Lakers more paint presence but he will not single-handedly correct all of the problems that the Lakers had in the Finals. Also, I have yet to hear serious discussion of the fact that he, Gasol and Odom cannot possibly play extended minutes together because none of them is a small forward. Bynum or Gasol can play center with Odom at power forward or Bynum can play center with Gasol at power forward but if Gasol and Bynum are on the court together then Odom will have to be on the bench in favor of someone who can play small forward. The ideal scenario for the Lakers would be for Bynum to quickly prove that he is healthy and productive so that the Lakers can trade Odom in exchange for a legitimate starting small forward; that is a position that is a glaring need for them, because Vladimir Radmanovic, Luke Walton and Trevor Ariza are each best suited to be bench players."
In my 2008 playoff recap I reemphasized those points: "If Andrew Bynum returns to health and is productive then he can start at center and Pau Gasol can shift to power forward. In that scenario, the ideal move for the Lakers would be to trade Lamar Odom for a quality small forward. Odom is not an ideal small forward, so a frontline of Bynum-Gasol-Odom is not feasible, despite what some people may try to convince you; the only way that those three players can effectively coexist is if one of them comes off of the bench. Gasol is the second best player on the team, so he is not going to be a reserve. Bynum is the best postup player, so it does not make sense to sit him either."
Regardless of how much Odom or his admirers overestimate his abilities, what Odom does best is rebound but if Bynum is healthy and in shape he is not only a better rebounder than Odom but he also provides more paint presence defensively. Odom has never been a great fit in the Triangle Offense but he was at his best last season when he was the third offensive option behind Bryant and Gasol, as opposed to being relied upon as the second offensive option (the next person who uses Odom's name in the same sentence with Scottie Pippen should immediately be sent to basketball purgatory). Add Bynum to that mix and you certainly have a big and talented frontcourt but one that does not mesh together well from a skill set standpoint; Odom is not a reliable outside shooter, nor can he be depended on to guard top flight small forwards on a nightly basis. Coach Jackson is obviously correct that the optimal solution from a strategic standpoint is to bring Odom off of the bench but there are two problems here: (1) Odom is in the last year of his contract and he obviously wants to put up big numbers so that he can get the largest possible deal after the season; (2) Odom's concentration and focus are not great anyway but being a sixth man requires a player to be very aware of what is going on in the game when he is on the bench so that he can have an instant impact when he enters the fray. Some people may assume that issue number one will help Odom resolve issue number two but I don't think so; if Odom comes off of the bench he is not going to be more focused so that he can put up good numbers: rather, he is going to force the issue because he is going to be concerned that he won't play as many minutes as he did last year.
Truthfully, the ideal solution for the Lakers is the one that I mentioned right after game six: Bynum quickly proves that he is healthy and effective, enabling the Lakers to trade Odom for a true small forward. Even if the player that they get in return is less talented than Odom, the Lakers will come out well if they get someone who enables them to properly balance out their rotations. Perhaps the Lakers could even package Radmanovic and some other reserves along with Odom in order to get not only a legitimate starting small forward but also a power forward who is better suited mentally to come off the bench than Odom is.
If Gasol and Bynum are healthy and Odom is not traded, Odom's dissatisfaction with his role and his lack of productivity will be the top stories in Lakerland. Strange as it may sound, if the Lakers cannot trade Odom they will almost be better off if Bynum gets hurt and the Lakers can use the lineup that dominated the Western Conference in the second half of last season. That may sound extreme--and I certainly am not wishing any ill on Bynum or anyone else--but Odom's role is a serious issue that the Lakers will have to address.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:02 AM