Commentary

Mavs wait for Lamar Odom to click

Rick Carlisle focuses on positives despite forward's overall lack of production

Updated: February 21, 2012, 11:00 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Lamar Odom's debut as a Dallas Maverick on Christmas Day came with a stirring, standing ovation. On Monday night, Odom checked in against the Boston Celtics to a smattering of boos.

He did little to sway the fans' favor. The 6-foot-10 reigning Sixth Man of the Year ambled about for less than 20 minutes, scoring four points on 2-of-8 shooting -- missing all five shots from beyond the arc. He grabbed four rebounds and had a couple of assists, two steals and a block.

[+] EnlargeOdom
Jerome Miron/US PresswireLamar Odom is averaging 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Mavs, well off his career marks of 14.4 points and 8.8 rebounds.

All the while, an unusually unaccompanied Khloe Kardashian sat in her usual seat, her head rising only occasionally from her smart phone screen as her thumbs excitedly exchanged tweets with fans fawning over the season premiere of the couple's reality TV show, "Khloe & Lamar."

Simultaneous tweets were not nearly as flattering regarding Odom's latest showings on the court, with some ready to pull the plug.

Upcoming "Khloe & Lamar" episodes will include scenes from inside the Mavs' locker room. Odom's teammates try not to laugh when asked if they'll watch, but they do remain steadfast in their support of their inscrutable teammate.

"I still think he's going to be an important part, especially when we move towards the playoffs," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Just his versatility -- there's not a lot of guys that have that in this league on both ends of the floor. I really think he's going to be OK, but he's got to keep working."

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was asked a succinct question about Odom's performances, pondering if the team needs more from him after his 16th game, out of 32, with two or fewer baskets. Still, the Mavs beat the depleted Celtics in an 89-73 blowout for their seventh win in eight games.

Carlisle delivered a nearly three-minute answer that again defended a player who can be sensitive to criticism. The response also lowered the expectation bar for a player who has never been selected to an All-Star team in 13 seasons and slipped nicely into the perfect fit under Zen Master Phil Jackson and in a supporting role behind friend Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

"Do I think he can play better? Yes. Do I think he will? I do," Carlisle said. "But, I think it's important everybody understands that the situation he's in now is unlike any situation he's been in his entire career.

"He's not playing all [power forward] minutes and he's not playing with two 7-footers that are great scorers in the post. He's now playing, probably splitting minutes between [small forward] and [power forward], which affects his rebounding, and his playmaking is going to be of a different nature at the 3-position. And so that's been a constant adjustment and he's making it, and so I just think that's where we are."

Carlisle contends that Odom's stats in the past 15 to 17 games, when viewed on a per-36-minute basis, are not far off from his career numbers. He's right to an extent. Odom's scoring has picked up considerably since the first 15 games -- 7.8 points per 36 minutes to 13.2 -- and his assists have more than doubled, while turnovers are down. Only his rebounding has dipped.

Still, his production across the board remains depressed compared to his career stats per 36 minutes.

And although his scoring has increased recently, Odom's shooting percentages remain abysmal, 35.7 percent from the field for the season and 25.9 percent on 3s. There's been only a slight uptick over the past 17 games to 39.3 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3-point range (which is just below his career number of 31.8). His career field goal percentage is 46.7.

"At the halfway point of the season, we've seen great progress," Carlisle said. "Would I like to see more? Yes. Do I think we will? Yes. But, do I think it's going to manifest in a bunch of 25-point, 10-rebound games? I don't think so. I don't think so. His game is of a different nature and I'm challenging all of you [media] in this room to dig into that and see the nuance with which he plays."

There are calls to trade Odom or sit him, but neither holds much merit. Odom's contract is only partially guaranteed for next season, so dealing a virtually expired contract for other expiring contracts makes little sense.

Dallas still believes that Odom's versatility will eventually pay off. At the moment, Odom is at least allowing Carlisle to limit Nowitzki's minutes on most nights to around 32.

"There's value in that," Carlisle said.

So as Bryant and the Lakers come to Dallas on Wednesday night, it is interesting to wonder if Odom would be enduring such struggles over there while adjusting to new coach Mike Brown and an unfamiliar system after coming off the same emotionally distressed offseason.

Bryant publicly voiced his displeasure after the trade and L.A. (19-13) has endured a rocky half-season, punctuated by Bryant's scathing comments directed at management following Sunday's 11th road loss at Phoenix.

Odom insists he doesn't pay attention to the happenings in LaLa Land. But he does still talk frequently with Bryant. Their last conversation, Odom said, was Sunday night following Bryant's explosion and Odom's forgettable two-point, two-turnover outing in New York.

"Kobe, all he wants to do is win," Odom said. "Like Dirk, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, those guys, they all think on the same mindset, whatever it takes to win."

The Mavs are still waiting, and hoping, for Odom to join them.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.