Lamar Odom apologizes to teammates
DALLAS -- Soft-spoken and typically introspective, Lamar Odom did not disclose the personal issue that took him away from the Dallas Mavericks for 10 days and pushed his team's patience with him to the brink, but he did open up about finding resolution and his commitment to the organization.
In his highly scrutinized return to the team Saturday night, playing in his first game since Feb. 20, Odom apologized to his teammates moments before the opening tip and asked for their patience and support. He said he never asked for nor did he want a buyout as had been rumored, saying that he is "lucky" and "blessed" to be with the Mavs organization, and he praised owner Mark Cuban for standing by him.
"It was really personal and it was something I had to tend to," Odom said of the issue that suddenly forced him to leave the team on Feb. 22. "Mark Cuban is a great owner for understanding. Sometimes we have to fix whatever's going on off the court in order for us to fix what's going on on the court."
Asked if he found resolution to his personal issue to allow him to remain focused for the rest of the season, Odom said, "I don't see why not. Everything's OK."
As for teammates that had begun to question his commitment, including Jason Kidd, who said on Friday that Odom will have to earn their trust, Odom said, "I just told them to stick with me and at this point in time in my life I need them."
His teammates told him they need him, too.
If that was Step 1 on the road to recovery off the court, later he took Step 1 on the court with a strong second-half effort in a desperately needed 102-96 win over the Utah Jazz. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, highly critical of Odom for the first time during his Friday local radio show, saying patience throughout the organization was running thin, described Odom's nine-point, five-rebound, three-assist game as "awesome" and said it's time for Odom to deliver on a nightly basis.
"This is by far the most energy he's played with the entire year and I don't think it's close," Carlisle said. "And I would defy anybody to go against that statement. It's just clear we need this from him every night. If he can bring this, if he can bring that kind of energy and engagement, it's going to lift our team to a different level."
And if he can't?
"We won't be as good," Carlisle said. "He's capable and I believe he can do it."
Odom was originally going to make his return to the court with the Mavs' D-League affiliate in nearby Frisco. He was going to attend the Texas Legends' Saturday morning shootaround, but just hours earlier the Mavs re-called him because reserve center Brandan Wright was unavailable to play because of a concussion and the Mavs needed reinforcements to help halt a season-long four-game losing streak.
Usually accessible prior to games, Odom declined to take questions in the locker room prior to the game, but told reporters they could ask anything after the game.
Odom showed he still had a sense of humor about him when asked if he heard the sellout crowd greet him with more cheers than boos when he was announced checking into the game at the 7:36 mark of the first quarter.
"Yeah, a lot of people watch the show," Odom said with a smile, referring to the "Khloe & Lamar" reality show with his wife Khloe Kardashian. "The town, the city has been great. I've had a lot of fun since I've been here and the reception has always been warm. I'm having a great time here."
Odom got off to a slow start in the first half with two points and one rebound in just eight minutes. He played just over two minutes in the second quarter. When Paul Millsap hit an open jumper after losing Odom, Carlisle quickly turned to the bench and told Dirk Nowitzki to check in.
But Odom showed resolve with a strong third quarter. He grabbed a rebound away from Millsap, drained an open 3-pointer in the corner, finished a driving finger roll, and dished a nice flip pass to Shawn Marion for an easy layup.
He brought the ball up the floor and was active at both ends of the floor, finishing with three blocked shots and committing no turnovers in 18 total minutes.
"It was great for him just to be out there and be part of us and playing with energy and flow out there and letting it come to him," Marion said. "It was great to see him out there, that's all that matters. If you go out there and play hard, good things happen."
But can the Mavs trust Odom to be mentally focused on a nightly basis as the regular season comes down to 28 games? It continues Monday night at Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City, the start of another grueling stretch of five games in six nights.
Asked if he can compete at the same effort the rest of the season as he did in the second half of Saturday's game, Odom simply said, "Yes."
He said he can understand why fans -- if not his teammates -- might be leery.
"I've had some things that bothered me and was easily distracted," Odom said. "So, it was easy for me to lose my focus. Again, sometimes we need everything in order in order to give ourselves 100 percent.
"You can ask anybody, ask any mechanic who might be going through a divorce, ask any lawyer who might have lost a loved one, I mean we all go through it, it's a part of life. You can either understand or you can judge. You pick."
Throughout Odom's drama-filled 2½ months, the Mavs have chosen the path of understanding believing that Odom would eventually come around after dealing with a tragic and emotional summer.
The past 10 days shook that faith. Saturday was a start for Odom to redeem himself.
"I don't think there's one minute or a stretch of 25 seconds tonight where anybody in that crowd could have said he's not into the game," Carlisle said. "He was into it. But now that he's done it, he's got to do it again and again and again. He's got to do it 28 times before the playoffs, and he can do it. I'm fully convinced that he can do it."
Jeff Caplan and Tim MacMahon cover the Dallas Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.