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Friday, October 03, 2008

Sixth Sense: Odom Less Than Thrilled About Not Being a Starter

The 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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:02 AM



At Friday, October 03, 2008 9:40:00 AM, Blogger JP said...

The Lakers have so much talent, and so much versatility, I would think they could make it work, and still be a 60+ win team. Yes, they do not have the ideal small forward for what they want to do.

The Lakers are going to have such a unique and devastating post attack. Gasol and Bynum are both above average passers. Gasol has that great face-up game, and can step out and shoot. Bynum is a huge target, who is very composed inside, and not to mention, a serious lob threat.

And so the goal is going to be spacing. That will be the biggest problem when you throw Odom out there with the two towers. He won't maintain spacing on the wing, and you will see his man causing some problems. Of course, that can be mitigated somewhat if they make him into a point forward and put him at the top of the key to facilitate the offense.

There are going to be positives and negatives wherever they place Odom. The Lakers will be at their best offensively with Radmanovic or Vujacic in the game, along with the other 4 starters.

At Friday, October 03, 2008 3:41:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

jp...how is bynum an above average passer when he averages 1 assist a game? and gasol's face up game is not that great. i didnt see it in the finals. what are you watching? spacing is not a problem. that is one of the main points of the triangle....to eliminate spacing issues.

At Friday, October 03, 2008 4:38:00 PM, Blogger JP said...

Gasol is a really capable passer. Bynum isn't on that same level, but at the center position, he is above average. Bynum has shown a willingness and vision to find that weak side cutter. Of course, APG is a part of evaluating a passer, but not the entire story.

Gasol has one of the best face-up games in the NBA. Fundamentally, he is about as complete as you can get for a PF. Just because he didn't display it in full force against that Boston defense, doesn't mean he doesn't have it in his game.

No spacing really is the problem. Spacing issues exist in every basketball offense, especially in a post-up offense. It is a simple concept to grasp. It's tough to have a heavy post game if the perimeter defenders are constantly sagging down.

At Friday, October 03, 2008 8:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

why does he got to come off bench yeah anyone who yelled pippen was wrong he no pippen at all he a solid player with good ball handling skill. they need a big with bynum comeing back they set they couldnt win ring without bynum not with soft gasol and odom agianst great boston team kobe wasnt great in that series but his teamates wasnt either.

lakers should win ring if everyone stay healthy

At Friday, October 03, 2008 8:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't love these kinds of stat, but Bynum's assist rate puts him above Duncan. He isn't as good a ballhandler overall, certainly. He barely handles it. But for a big man, he is definitely an above average passer.

While I agree that Ariza is a better fit with Gasol and Bynum, I think the Lakers would be crazy to let Odom go. There are 32 minutes for each of them at the 4-5. Odom can play some small forward. Tney can make this work.

Depth is really important in the NBA. Odom just played third banana on the second best team in the NBA last year. Exchanging him for a lower quality player simply to keep everyone happy would be a huge mistake. And swapping him for a true small forward seems to be making too fine a point. Ariza, Rad, Walton, and Kobe are all excellent options at the 3.

Staying pat is the best option in my view. This storm will blow over. Odom wants to win a title in LA. I think he will quickly realize that that is far more in his interest than getting traded to Memphis for Rudy Gay, or whatever they might do with him.


At Saturday, October 04, 2008 2:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Just by virtue of having Kobe plus Gasol and a decent supporting cast the Lakers have a chance to win 60+ games but the Odom situation will be a distraction if it is not resolved in one of the ways that I mentioned in the post (Odom being traded or injuries opening up playing time for him at the pf spot).

Bynum is not an above average passer. I would say that he is improving as a passer and on occasion he makes some really nifty feeds, which indicates that he could become a good passer with more experience.

Odom is overrated as a "point forward." He can make some nice passes at times but he just does not have a good enough feel for the Triangle to run the whole offense. He was at his best as a Laker with Kobe and Gasol as the primary options while he dove to the hoop on the weak side or popped up to the free throw line after a Kobe-Gasol screen/roll.

At Saturday, October 04, 2008 2:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We agree about Bynum as a passer, though I think that he has shown some potential in this area.

The Triangle is designed to create spacing but the defense does not have to honor players who cannot shoot from the outside. That is one reason that Odom is not an ideal wing player in the Triangle.

At Saturday, October 04, 2008 2:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If everyone stays healthy then Bynum will be the starting center--he can't play any other position. Gasol can play center or pf but pf is his most natural position, so that is where he will play when Bynum is in the game. Gasol does have a good faceup game; he had a bad Finals but he was very good during the regular season and solid during the first three playoff rounds.

For the reasons that I listed, Odom is not a good fit at sf and that is why he has to come off of the bench or, ideally, be traded for a starting sf.

At Saturday, October 04, 2008 2:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The best thing that I have seen Bynum do as a passer is make some nice bounce passes to baseline cutters in certain Triangle sets. Mostly, though, when Bynum has the ball on offense he looks to shoot and that is not necessarily a bad thing considering his FG%. Big men tend to improve as passers as they get more used to being double teamed and to playing in traffic in the NBA, which is a lot different than playing in the post in high school or college, where they simply overmatched/overpowered whoever guarded them.

Your analysis of the Odom situation highlights what is wrong with purely looking at things from a stats perspective. Yes, by the numbers you could say that there are 96 min/g. available at the pf and c spots, so Bynum, Gasol and Odom can each average 32 min/g. but that overlooks issues of skill sets and chemistry. I have made it clear why I don't think that Odom can be the starting sf and HoF Coach Phil Jackson apparently has come to the same conclusion. Players are not just automatons who produce certain stats when they are placed on the court; if Odom is not happy or if he feels like he has to put up certain numbers to get a big contract then that will affect his performance--and not in a good way.

I'm not saying to just get rid of Odom for nothing but I am saying that trading him for a sf who--either subjectively and/or statistically--is marginally worse would actually be a good deal from a rotation standpoint. The size of Odom's contract may not make it realistic for the Lakers to do a deal, anyway. That is probably why Jackson is already experimenting and trying to figure out what to do with Odom. This is a serious issue, as I recognized this summer when other people were talking about some budding Lakers' dynasty.

I don't know that Odom wants to get traded to Memphis or anywhere else; I'm saying that a trade is the best option for the Lakers, if they can pull it off. How much Odom wants to win a title is not really the point; the point is that his skill set does not mesh well with the other two big guys. Also, in a general sense I do not like the way that Odom's concentration tends to wander and the fact that even after several years he still has not really grasped the fine points of the Triangle. Some Laker fans call him "O-dumb" and while I think that is a cheap shot there is some legitimate reason to question his basketball intelligence in certain situations. Bottom line, I don't trust him with the ball in his hands in clutch situations because he is prone to committing turnovers (particularly charging fouls) or taking bad shots.

At Saturday, October 04, 2008 3:50:00 PM, Blogger JP said...

Do you think the Lakers are going to trade Odom before February? 10 games in, 20 games in, 30 games in, whatever, it is very likely that the Lakers will be at the top of their conference. Would they really consider trading Odom when they are rolling?

Most teams wouldn't want to mess with it. I don't think the Lakers are looking at acquiring a sizable contract in return for Odom. The top paid players on that team for the next 5 years --> Kobe, Gasol and Bynum. They have to watch their money situation.

I think they will ask Odom to take a paycut next summer. If not, they have plenty of other options.

I stand by my assessment that Bynum is an above average passer at the C position. It will be more obvious as he gets increased touches in the post.

At Saturday, October 04, 2008 9:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't know how realistic it is that the Lakers will trade Odom because I don't know what offers are on the table from other teams. It is my opinion that they should trade him if they can and I suspect that they would trade him if they could get the kind of deal that I described earlier (a credible starting sf or a package deal of Odom and others in exchanged for a starting sf and a backup pf who is willing to be a backup pf).

I think that the Lakers' current situation is a little similar to the Knicks' situation in the late 60s. They traded Walt Bellamy--a HoF center, albeit one who was a bit on the downside of his career--for Dave DeBusschere, a HoF power forward. Acquiring DeBusschere straightened out the Knicks' rotations by shifting Reed to center and they went on to win two titles. I realize that there are a number of differences between that team and the current Lakers' team but my point is twofold: (1) Sometimes having a twin or trio towers frontcourt (Reed-Bellamy in the earlier case, Bynum-Gasol-Odom now) is not as effective as having a smaller lineup in which each player can play the role best suited to his skill set; (2) sometimes even a very talented team can improve its chemistry/productivity by making a trade. In a May 15, 2003 NYT article by Ira Berkow after DeBusschere passed away, Knicks' trainer Danny Whelan said, "We were a good team, and Dave made us a terrific team." In that same article, Berkow noted that Red Holzman--the Knicks' coach during that era--had said that the trade helped to define everyone's roles: not only did Reed shift to center and DeBusschere take over at pf, as I noted above, but Walt Frazier moved into the starting lineup (guard Howie Komives was also traded in the deal).

As I said, there are some obvious differences between the two teams but I think that the analogy is valid overall in the sense that the Lakers could theoretically improve themselves by trading Odom even though Odom was a key player on the squad last season.

As for Bynum's passing, I would not say that he has been above average thus far overall but he has shown enough flashes of court awareness that it would not surprise me if his passing improves this season and that he emerges as an above average pivot passer.

At Sunday, October 05, 2008 12:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

so is walton or rad going to start for him it's kobe gasol fisher bynum and who else if no odom.

At Sunday, October 05, 2008 4:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would assume that V Rad would start if he is healthy and the Lakers don't make any moves. However, there could be situations where Walton would start based on certain matchups and it would not surprise me if Ariza got some starts at times for defensive purposes. I don't really like V Rad, Walton or Ariza as top level starting small forwards but--unlike Odom--they are legit small forwards (i.e., not playing out of position). There is even some talk that in the preseason the Lakers will put Kobe at small forward, Fisher at shooting guard and Odom at point guard. I could expend about 5000 words explaining why that won't work but I don't think that experiment is going to last long enough to make it worth writing about.

At Sunday, October 05, 2008 7:49:00 AM, Blogger Joel said...


If the Lakers were to trade Odom for a natural SF, would that player have to be a great perimeter defender? Or would somebody like Mike Miller (just as an example) be adequate?

The reason I'm asking is that I can hardly think of any good defense-minded SF who would be available in a midseason trade. I don't think Battier, Bowen, or Posey are going to be traded, let alone to a fellow contender in the same conference. On the other hand, the Lakers SFs were torched repeatedly by Pierce in the Finals and have never had much success with LeBron either, so you'd think it would be important to get a stopper at that position (since they'll probably have to face one of those two players if they get back to the Finals).

Would the addition of Bynum and a full training camp of emphasis on defensive concepts be enough for the Lakers to get away with replacing Odom with a mediocre defender? I don't think Odom is a good fit offensively, but he can hardly do a worse job defending SFs than Luke or the Space Cadet.

At Sunday, October 05, 2008 3:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If Odom could guard LeBron or Pierce then the Lakers would have give him those tasks and put in Turiaf or someone else to play pf when the Cavs played those teams. My point is that Odom is not a sf, so the Lakers would be better off getting a real sf, even if that player is considered to be less "talented" than Odom, who in my opinion is a bit overrated anyway.

When the Lakers want to go with a more defensive look they can bring in Ariza or, as in the Finals, shift Kobe to sf. Meanwhile, for the spacing and balance to be at their best, they need to have someone as a starting sf who actually is a true sf. You can mix and match lineups for short stretches but it is not advisable to try to go extended periods of time with someone playing out of position.

Here is a another analogy: Scottie Pippen is one of the 25 or 30 greatest players of all-time and he was in his absolute prime in 1995 but when the Bulls lost Horace Grant and (ironically) had to face Grant's new team, the Orlando Magic, in the playoffs, the Bulls played Pip (and sometimes Kukoc) at power forward simply because they did not have anyone else who could do the job. They lost that series in six games. The next year they brought in Dennis Rodman--a true pf, albeit an unorthodox one due to his size--and went from being a good team to posting the most single season wins of all-time.

The Lakers are going to have a very good record this year as long as Kobe and Gasol are healthy but to be a great team they need to resolve the Odom situation.

At Tuesday, October 07, 2008 10:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im a Celtics fan. We have Perkins and KG in the paint..... 2 wings that are sharpshooters in Ray and Paul... and Rondo cant shoot but facilitates the offense.

The Lakers are FINE on offense with Odom at Small Forward. The spacing will be okay...... think about it. Youve got Bynum and Gasol (Perk and KG) inside..... then youve got two sharpshooters in Fisher and Kobe..... and a guy that cant shoot facilitating the offense that effects the game positively in so many other ways in Odom (Rondo).

The Lakers have plenty of shooters off the bench. Theyll always have an above average center (Bynum or Gasol) AND PF (Gasol or Odom) on the floor throughout rotation.

The only main concern is Odom defending SF's..... they may blow by. And we all saw the Lakers defense needs major improvement.... if Odom is up to the task on defense theyll be great this year, he's a better shooter than Rondo by far and not to mention Lamar couldve worked on his outside jumper all summer for all we know...

PLUS: Sure he might have trouble guarding SF's but he could be just as much a matchup nightmare for the opposing SF's that he has to guard cuz they have to guard him too!

At Tuesday, October 07, 2008 10:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all reality if the Lakers were gonna trade somebody for a SF they should trade Gasol instead of Odom.

Bynum is the main lowpost scorer anyways and is gonna get more dominant...... Odom spaces the floor for him at PF more than Gasol will and is more versatile......

Main reason is that you could get a better SF for Gasol..... for real you could probably get a Caron Butler in exchange for him. Any doubt at all that the Lakers would win the ring with Butler to guard Pierce and Kobe to guard Ray? Plus that would make Kobe so much more dangerous with the lowpost threat (as you saw with Bynum last year and Gasol after that) in Bynum AND a creator/scorer on the wing to support him in Caron..... plus Caron is all heart and a serious beast that is just like Kobe, a KILLER in big games and big moments that feeds off emotion.... Gasol is far from that.

For Odom you could probably only get a Nocioni or Hedo Turkoglu level SF at best. Caron is much better in every phase of the game, especially defensively. But everything really.

At Tuesday, October 07, 2008 6:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous (both of you):

The Celtics often went through offensive dry spells at times with those non-shooters on the court but survived them because of their great defense. They also have three great HoF players who can create their own shots and create shots for others. The Lakers are not a great defensive team and they rely on the Triangle (and Kobe's greatness) to create points. Odom is ill suited to be a sf, particularly in the Triangle. Odom's best attribute is his rebounding, so it makes no sense to deploy him away from the hoop.

Odom most assuredly did not work on his jumper all summer. In fact, Coach Jackson recently expressed displeasure that Odom came into camp out of shape.

There is no way that the Lakers should trade Gasol instead of Odom. Gasol is younger (only slightly) but more importantly he is a better, more skilled player who is a legit seven footer. Gasol was easily the second best player on the Lakers and a much better "sidekick" for Kobe than Odom has ever been.

Butler is the Wizards' best player and I seriously doubt that they would trade him unless they could get another team's best player in return.

The Lakers should have never traded Butler in the first place but, on the other hand, they parlayed Kwame into Gasol so it worked out fine in the end (even though they obviously did not plan all of that out).

Turkoglu is most likely not on the market after the season he had last year but contrary to what you suggest the Lakers would be thrilled to get a sf of his caliber.

At Tuesday, October 07, 2008 8:02:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...

Now the OC Register is reporting that the Laker coaches are considering bringing Bynum off the bench if he and Gasol don't develop a rapport soon. I'm not sure how serious they are about that but it will be interesting to see how they look in tonight's preseason opener.

At Tuesday, October 07, 2008 11:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I saw that report. All of this indecision just reinforces what I have been saying for months: the Lakers are not simply going to put Bynum, Gasol and Odom on the court together and roll to multiple titles with ease. There are some serious rotation issues that have to be addressed, not to mention questions about Bynum's health, Odom's conditioning and Gasol's toughness against elite, physical defensive teams.

At Thursday, October 09, 2008 10:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

why cant the 3 of them work david odom gasol and bynum since bynum is true center gasol true power forward odom is small forward isnt he better than vlad or walton why would they start before him.

At Friday, October 10, 2008 1:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It won't work for the reasons I explained in the post and the reasons that I mentioned when I first brought this up in June. To summarize, Odom is not a small forward, so playing him out of position will put the Lakers out of whack on offense and on defense. It has nothing to do with whether or not Odom is a better player than Walton or the others. Jackson realizes that he has a problem and that is why he keeps moving Odom around to different positions; since Odom does not want to be a pf coming off of the bench, this may be Jackson's way of showing Odom that Odom will not fit into any other role in the starting lineup. I wouldn't put it past Jackson to lose some preseason games to get this point across very clearly.


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