In a touching moment from Kobe Bryant’s farewell last week, his former teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lamar Odom, was a part of the postgame festivities. After a near-fatal drug overdose several months prior, the Queens, New York, native was back on the Staples Center hardwood, embracing the legend with whom he enjoyed most of his success.
During an exclusive interview with Entertainment Tonight’s Kevin Frazier after the game, Odom expressed his desire for an NBA return. The former fourth overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft said he’s looking to “get back on the court” and that he’s “still got it.”
At 36 years old, not having played professional basketball in three years, an NBA comeback is certainly a long shot. Reports have indicated that Odom is still in the process of recovering from the overdose he suffered at a Nevada brothel last October, putting him into a prolonged coma.
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The most recent update on Odom’s health came in early January when his paternal aunt spoke about his recovery.
“Lamar continues to make remarkable strides and we are asking that you continue to respect our privacy,” JeNean Mercer said in the statement to Us Weekly.
“Again we thank all of you greatly, your support has been paramount in helping to uplift us during these past few difficult months.”
Those difficult months included multiple strokes, kidney failure, and possible brain damage, according to the Los Angeles Times. Odom was placed on dialysis and him living a normal life was a far bigger concern than playing basketball ever again.
However, if Odom is serious about an NBA return, there are two conditions that would have to met for him to make that journey successful.
For starters, the 6’10 forward would need to come to grips that he would be a reserve player. His heart has been through so much – both in basketball and life – it would likely not be able to handle the rigors of a full-time NBA schedule without serious consequences.
Quite frankly, it may be smart for Odom to consider a coaching gig rather than an on-court return. But his passion for the game cannot be denied and his career speaks for itself.
During his 14-year career with the Clippers, Heat, Lakers, and Mavericks, Odom was one of the NBA’s most versatile players. He could shoot from the perimeter, make smart passes, grab rebounds, and be a key part of the team. In fact, Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak once complimented Odom beyond his on-the-court contributions.
"A lot of people don't know that Lamar Odom probably is the most popular player in our locker room," Kupchak said at the presentation as Odom was named Sixth Man of the Year for 2010-11. "And that's not because of the way he plays basketball. That's because of who he is." (via NBA.com)
The second condition would be that any return Odom makes has to be with the Lakers organization. He spent seven seasons in Hollywood, helping lead the team to two NBA championships in both 2008-09 and 2009-10. Odom enjoyed the glitz and glamor of life in Los Angeles and he was clearly a different person after his departure from Los Angeles.
Following his Lakers stint, Odom’s stint with the Mavericks and Clippers did not go well, resulting in career-low statistics. He tried playing overseas in Spain and even signed with the Knicks towards the end of the 2013-14 season but never played for them.
“Anybody that knows Lamar Odom knows that there are two things that he loves,” Stephen A. Smith said on ESPN’s First Take nearly three years ago. “Number one is being in Los Angeles and number two, despite his last season with the Clippers, this man was in love with wearing the purple and gold and being a Los Angeles Laker.”
“When Lamar Odom got traded [to the Mavericks], I remember him coming on my radio show and he was crying on the air because he was so depressed. He knew he was being let go by the Los Angeles Lakers.”
In recent seasons, the Lakers have abandoned their once winning formula. Bryant is gone and with a lot of cap space available, the team has two choices: Build around a young nucleus of talent that includes D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson or try to rebuild via free agency and trade the youngsters for established talent.
Either way, bringing Odom back would be a huge story next season. He’s proven to be an invaluable presence in the past and if he can show that he can remotely resemble his former self, he’ll provide some value to a young Lakers team.
A role similar to Metta World Peace on the 2015-16 Lakers can be Odom’s calling card next season. World Peace averaged 5.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 35 games this past season. He earned praise from Bryant who told reporters that World Peace “raises the play of everybody on the court defensively.”
It’ll be a daunting task for Odom to return but his presence could prove invaluable to an inexperienced Lakers team in search of a veteran presence.