Some would say that Lamar Odom played for the Heat last season. He prefers to view it as an extended vacation in Miami. "I was only there for seven or eight months," Odom says as he ices an ankle at training camp. "It's good to be back in L.A."
In many respects it's as if he never left. Since being acquired by the Lakers in the Shaquille O'Neal trade in July, Odom has returned to the Marina Del Rey house he lived in during his four seasons as a member of the Clippers. He eats at the same restaurants and has the same commute to Staples Center. Except now it will be a little weird--"good weird," he says--to play in front of a full house of 18,997 rather than Billy Crystal and his closest friends. "This is a dream come true," he says. "This is the Yankees of basketball. The big stage."
The Lakers will have to keep winning at their recent clip for that Yankees analogy to fly, which means the team needs the Miami version of Odom, the one who stayed on the court and filled up the stat sheet. The L.A. Odom--version 1.0, at least--was inconsistent, injury-prone and twice suspended for violating the league's drug policy. "I became a better player and a better man in Miami," Odom says. "I grew up a lot."
That's a good thing, as he'll be given plenty of adult responsibilities with the Lakers: pick up much of the scoring slack created by O'Neal's departure, play everything from point guard to power forward and become Kobe Bryant's second in command. Odom had warmed to that last duty by the end of the team's first practice. All the players had left except Bryant, who was engulfed by reporters. "C'mon, Kobe," Odom said playfully, peaking over a row of cameras. "Bus is leaving. Gonna leave without you."
Bryant smiled. Odom smiled. Could it be: one big, happy Lakers family? --C.B.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Lakers
Those who think these guys will be terrible without Shaquille O'Neal are going to be surprised. Teams are going to double Kobe Bryant, but Lamar Odom is going to put a wrench in that. Not only can Odom create, but he and Kobe can play with or without the ball, which is going to open up the floor for everybody else.... Kobe is the best player in the game--the most creative, the best one-on-one--and at 26 he hasn't peaked. He's going to get all the shots in the world because new coach Rudy Tomjanovich runs a lot of isolation. Former NBA players like Rudy tend to coach by instinct, while coaches who didn't play usually coach by the book. If something's working for Kobe, Rudy will run it and run it and run it.... Chucky Atkins is an adequate point guard, but Kobe and Odom are going to be handling the ball a lot. I could see Kobe playing point with Caron Butler or Kareem Rush at the two, Odom at the three and Brian Grant at the four, knocking down the elbow jumper on the pick-and-roll. With that lineup out there, who are you going to leave open? ... They're going to have a lot of variety, but they won't be physical, they won't be good in the post, and they won't be good defensively because they're weak at the big positions. Slava Medvedenko and Chris Mihm are inconsistent role players. Grant is a strong rebounder and their most physical guy, but his best days are behind him. The same goes for Vlade Divac.... They'll be dangerous in the regular season, but in the playoffs they're going to have insurmountable trouble against Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Yao Ming. They were always the team to beat in postseason because Shaq dominated in the paint, but now that shoe is on the other foot.
Caron Butler, Brian Grant and Lamar Odom combined to make 228 more free throws than Shaquille O'Neal last season--in just 68 more attempts.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 56--26 (3rd in West)
Points scored: 98.2 (3rd in NBA)
Points allowed: 94.3 (16th)
Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich
(first season with the Lakers)
VLADE DIVAC [NEW ACQUISITION]
BRIAN GRANT [NEW ACQUISITION]
CHUCKY ATKINS [NEW ACQUISITION]
LAMAR ODOM [NEW ACQUISITION]
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES