LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lamar Odom surveyed the bank of cameras with a practiced eye, subtly adjusting his impeccable suit and tie before stepping back into the spotlight.
This star of hoops and reality TV is right at home in Hollywood, and he’s incredibly grateful to be back with his original NBA team.
Odom formally joined the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday following a four-team trade last week, vowing to revitalize his career with a once-downtrodden franchise now on the verge of title contention.
“It’s an opportunity to redeem myself and an opportunity to come home, and you can’t pass at that,” said Odom, who will wear his old No. 7. “This city has been great to me, and I love being here. ... This is my home. I grew up in New York, and I’m a New Yorker to the heart, but I’m so grateful to be able to wear these colors and represent the town. I’m lucky.”
He’s also lucky to be out of Dallas, where he was miserable on and off the court last season after the Lakers abruptly traded the two-time champion before the lockout-shortened season. Odom foundered in a 50-game stint with the Mavericks, leading many to wonder whether the emotional big man had lost his passion for basketball.
Odom said he’s still got it — and being home can only help this fall when he goes to work down the hallway at Staples Center with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
“I feel like I’m 19 again,” said Odom, who will turn 33 shortly after next season begins. “Hopefully I can turn the clock back on the court as well, do whatever I can to help the team win games and erase that last season I had. I wasn’t myself. I feel like I can help just by being myself. You all know what type of person I am and what I can bring to a ballclub. The same thing I did when I was winning championships is what I’m going to be doing for the Clippers now.”
Odom was thrilled when the Mavericks engineered a deal to send him back to the Clippers, who drafted him with the fourth overall pick in 1999. The Clippers gave up guard Mo Williams in the deal, but they share Odom’s confidence he can regain his form.
“There were obviously a lot of questions,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But at the end of the conversation, I just felt he was committed and wanted to be back in a Clipper uniform. That’s what I wanted to see. All of the other things in the past are in the past. ... I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy that’s had as much consistent success at his position than Lamar.”
Except last year: Odom, the NBA’s top sixth man for the Lakers in 2010-11, averaged career lows of 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and about 20 minutes in 50 games with Dallas before the club gave up on him in March after owner Mark Cuban had seen enough. Odom was also often late for practices and meetings, never giving the impression he was invested in the Mavs.
Odom realizes his reputation took a hit in the past two years, particularly after he starred in a cable TV reality series with his wife, Khloe Kardashian.
“Since last year, doing a TV show, a lot of people questioned my focus on basketball,” Odom said. “I never knew I was going to have a hit TV show. I didn’t plan it, but my focus to basketball is there.”
Odom still won’t speak directly about what troubled him in Dallas, but he acknowledges the Mavs didn’t get his best effort.
He demanded a trade from the Lakers after they tried to move him to New Orleans in a three-team deal to land Paul from the NBA-owned Hornets that was rejected by the league. Odom alluded to a difficult relationship with the Lakers even before the deal, and said he doesn’t think he made a mistake in demanding to leave the Lakers because he “would have been traded in the middle of the season anyway.”
“Going into that trade, I was pretty beat up because of some things that happened off the court,” Odom added. “Those guys (in Dallas) stuck by me, and I wish them the best, but I’m so grateful to be here.”
The Clippers’ top brass — at least what’s left of it after general manager Neil Olshey’s abrupt departure for Portland last month — says its character questions about Odom have been answered. Odom might have had a few similar questions about the Clippers, who are working without a GM for now.
Personnel decisions are being made by a committee of team President Andy Roeser, director of player personnel Gary Sacks and Del Negro. Olshey’s departure still might be a dismaying step back for the franchise that made such progress on its reputation in the past year, but the Clippers still have Griffin, Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler and a solid core of young talent for next season.
“This is the right place for him to be at the right time,” Roeser said. “He wants to win, and that’s all he cares about. His willingness to do whatever it takes, regardless of what it means for him individually, is something that will serve us well.”
And with Paul just one season away from unrestricted free agency, the Clippers know they must build quickly on last season’s impressive effort. Los Angeles finished fifth in the Western Conference and made the playoffs for just the second time in the last 15 years during just its second winning season in two decades. The Clippers also won their first-round series in impressive fashion over Memphis.
Odom believes he can play a supporting role in that production — and maybe even be a star again.
“There’s a lot of things I want to make right,” he said. “I know what kind of player I am. I just want to get back to that level. I told Coach I’m 100 percent in on whatever he needs and whatever he wants to be done. I’ll be his soldier.”