Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle expressed disappointment with Lamar Odom's ongoing absence from the team and bluntly stated that the forward will face scrutiny upon his return, from owner Mark Cuban to the players in the locker room.
Odom will play Saturday night for the Mavs' D-League affiliate in nearby Frisco and then is expected to re-join the Mavs for the first time since Feb. 20 when the team travels to Oklahoma City for Monday's game, Carlisle said.
"When he comes back, we're going to find out very quickly where things are at," Carlisle said during his weekly appearance Friday on the ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Galloway & Co." "He's going to have to show us with his actions and attitude that he's in."
Odom left the Mavs on Feb. 22 to tend to a family matter and missed his fourth consecutive game Friday night when Dallas played New Orleans. He will also miss Saturday's game against the Utah Jazz. Odom left the team to attend to his ill father in Los Angeles, sources told ESPNDallas.com.
The Mavs need Odom's presence off the bench in the midst of nine games in 12 nights, the most grueling stretch of the season. After Friday's 97-92 loss at New Orleans, Dallas has lost a season-high four games and five of six.
"Mark asks a fundamental question of anybody in our franchise: Are they in or are they not in?" Carlisle said. "Our fans want to know that Lamar's in. Our players want to know that Lamar's in. It's not about how many points he's scoring or rebounds; those things are a factor. Our fans, our players want to see the guy playing like his pants are on fire and we haven't seen that so far and that's got to change."
Texas Legends owner and Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson confirmed Friday that it was Odom's idea to play with the Legends first.
Odom was expected to report back to the Mavericks on the Monday after the All-Star break, but he didn't arrive in Dallas until Wednesday. While the team was in Memphis on Wednesday, Cuban met in Dallas with Odom and his agent, Jeff Schwartz, to work on a timetable that would ease Odom back into the fold after his weeklong personal leave.
Point guard Jason Kidd acknowledged that Odom's inconsistent effort and extended absence were issues worthy of concern, although Kidd remained supportive of his teammate.
"Trust factor is always big," Kidd told ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon after Friday morning's shootaround. "For that, he's going to have to earn it with a lot of the guys. But we all give second chances, third chances. For that, we just want him to be him and be comfortable and play."
Added forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has to play heavier minutes with Odom away from the team: "If he can play hard every night and be there for us, it'll be OK. It'll work out. I said two months ago that he can be a big part of what we can do in the playoffs, because his versatility on both ends of the floor is something not a lot of teams have. We'd love to give it a shot and go from there."
Carlisle said he would expect that Odom will address his teammates before Monday's big road game against the Western Conference-leading Thunder.
"It's got to be few words and strong action and it's got to go from there, and I'm sure he'll address the team," Carlisle said. "But, from this point going forward it's attitude and action.
"We're going to do everything we can to get the guy ready to play ... but he's well aware now of exactly what's expected. And it's not about the stats. It's about how he approaches it in terms of his actions on the court, his engagement in the game, being into it and intensity, passion, all those kind of things."
Carlisle acknowledged that Odom is dealing with a personal issue, but he said he does not know specific details. Even so, Carlisle said that Odom's underwhelming season, the worst in his 13-year career, combined with the off-court drama, is wearing thin on a veteran core of players attempting to defend its championship.
"There is a personal issue here and we do not know the extent of it or the details of it," Carlisle said. "There is a fine line between compassion, which our owner is showing, and gross insensitivity."
"I'm disappointed," Carlisle continued, "with the way the whole thing's gone. We've worked hard with this kid. I'm a patient guy, Mark is a patient guy, Donnie is a patient guy, our team is a patient team, but patience has worn thin here.
"... This is serious business. The business of winning NBA basketball games is serious business. This is not easy. It's not easy to win a game in the NBA. ... We need people that are engaged and we need people that are into it."
Odom's agent, Jeff Schwartz, issued a statement Friday in response to speculation that the assignment to the Legends was a demotion from the Mavericks.
"The whole idea of going to the D-League was Lamar's," Schwartz said. "He proposed it to the Mavs; they never asked him. He wanted to get some floor time in actual game conditions before rejoining the team. People need to educate themselves on the rules in place here. NBA veterans don't get sent to the D-League without their consent."
According to new rules implemented this season, NBA veterans with more than two years of service time can only be assigned to the D-League on baseball-style rehab stints with the consent of the player as well as the Players Association.
Odom had two private workouts Friday with Mavs consultant Tim Grgurich, who was flown in this week specifically to help Odom get ready for his return to the Mavs, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
Carlisle presumed that Odom has likely not worked out much during his time away from the team. He said Friday's workouts went well. Carlisle said he still believes Odom can make a positive contribution this season.
"When Lamar comes back, if he comes on the floor and he competes the way people expect him to compete as a member of a world championship defending team," Carlisle said, "this problem will go away."
Jeff Caplan and Tim MacMahon cover the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com and is a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com.