Lamar Odom considered sabbatical
As his Martin Luther King Day reunion with the Los Angeles Lakers approaches, Lamar Odom has revealed that he was "real close" to walking away from the game for a season -- or perhaps longer -- well before his December trade to the Dallas Mavericks.
Left reeling by the July murder of his 24-year-old cousin and a fatal car accident days later that killed a teen pedestrian after the car he was riding in as a passenger collided with a motorcycle, Odom told ESPN.com that he had to be convinced by wife Khloe Kardashian to scrap his plans for a hiatus.
"Real close," Odom said when asked Saturday how close he came to asking the Lakers for a season-long sabbatical.
"My wife talked me out of it.
"Cause I was asking myself: 'Was I mentally prepared to play? If I didn't play well, was I mentally prepared to help the team?' I had thought, 'Maybe I need a year.' Because of the lockout, I thought, 'Maybe somebody's sending me a sign that I needed this time off.'
"(But) when I told some of my friends and my family that I was thinking about steppin' back for a minute, I think the reaction from the closest people to me kind of gave me the energy to get back at it."
Odom returns to L.A. for Monday night's Mavericks-at-Lakers showdown in the worst on-court funk of his career. After totaling nine points and seven rebounds in Saturday's 99-60 rout of the Sacramento Kings, Odom is still averaging just 6.6 points and 4.8 boards in a career-low 19.8 minutes per game.
He's spoken openly about his struggles to adapt to his new team after seven seasons with the Lakers and the fact that he's not yet in the shape he needs to be, but Odom insists that his sub-par production is not because he's still struggling to accept the fact that the Lakers dealt him away.
Odom says he's "blessed" to be playing for the Mavericks -- given that the Lakers could have sent him anywhere -- but points out that he didn't play nearly as much in the offseason as he normally would have after the two tragedies in July. Going into last season, which saw the 32-year-old win NBA Sixth Man Award honors for the first time in his career, Odom played all summer for Team USA as a prelude.
Odom has never denied that he was initially stung deeply by the news that the Lakers agreed to trade him to New Orleans in December in a three-team deal with the Hornets and Houston Rockets that would have sent Chris Paul to L.A.
NBA commissioner David Stern, acting on behalf of the league-owned Hornets, overruled New Orleans' basketball people and killed the deal, which soon led to Odom's agent, Jeff Schwartz, brokering a trade to Dallas that would give the crushed Odom an opportunity to start over fresh.
But Odom, dismissing the notion of a trade hangover, said Saturday that the events of July made him realize "how much I wasn't over some of the things that I went through (in life)," most notably the death of 6-month-old son Jayden in 2006 from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
"I thought it was good time for me to take a step back," Odom said of his sabbatical idea. Asked if he imagined it as just a one-season break, Odom added: "I don't know. 'Cause who knows where time away is gonna take you? You never know."
Odom, though, has expressed confidence in recent days that his sharpness will gradually start to return.
On Friday he told local reporters: "We play a game and get critiqued for what we do. So when Ií'm not doing a good job, you tell me about it and you write about it, it makes no difference. The last couple of years I took a lot of pride in preparing myself to play at a high level, but sometimes things happen in life. Basketball is a humbling game, it will humble you. But I keep trying to prepare and get myself ready to get better and better and better as the year goes on.
"Ití's so funny how like six or seven games -- (after) eight, nine, 10 games -- people will try to like erase your whole body of work. But I guess this is really a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of business. But that'ís part of the pressure that kind of keeps us ready and eager to try to perform at a high level, too. All you'íve got to do is have a couple of good games and you'll be the best thing since sliced bread."
On Saturday, Odom added: "I got a son (Lamar Jr.) that loves the game. And there's some things I still got to do to keep his love up. And a nephew. My nephew's 11 and my son is 10 and they're best friends.
"What I do is like no longer for myself. It's for my family, for these kids in my neighborhood, for the kids that I take care of that are not mine. I'm gonna try to keep it going as long as I can play at a certain level."
Odom's future in Dallas is uncertain even if he rallies and plays well this season, given the Mavericks' well-chronicled intention to create as much salary-cap space as possible in the summer of 2012 for the pursuit of marquee free agents such as Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. The Mavericks can buy out Odom's $8.2 million salary in 2012-13 with a payment of $2.4 million by June 29.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.