Lamar Odom rejoins Clippers
LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Odom joined the Los Angeles Clippers as a 19-year old kid. He left four years later for the shores of Miami Beach, calling the Clippers organization, "basketball hell" on his way out the door.
But the 32-year-old man who was re-introduced as a Clipper on Monday afternoon has a very different view of the team, now.
The Clippers aren't just his past now, they are his future. And after an abysmal season with the Dallas Mavericks, they just might be his salvation, too.
Personally it feels like there's some unfinished business as a Clipper.” -- Lamar Odom
"Personally it feels like there's some unfinished business as a Clipper," Odom said Monday as the Clippers welcomed him back into the organization following a four-way trade with Dallas, Utah and Houston last Friday.
"I've got to watch them build what many consider now a program, build tradition with key players such as Blake (Griffin) and Chris (Paul). They've built it from the ground up and they've built it the right way.
"There's a lot of the same people around. But obviously you can feel that it's different here."
What's different is that the Clippers are a winning organization on the rise after last season's trade for Paul, the soon-to-be-completed five-year extension for Griffin, and the building of a gleaming new $50 million practice facility.
When Odom played for the Clippers from 1999-2003, the team practiced at Southwest Los Angeles College and went a combined 112-216 with a talented group of young players like Odom, Darius Miles, Michael Olowokandi, Corey Maggette and Elton Brand.
During his first four years, Odom showed flashes of brilliance, but also frustrated Clippers officials with his immaturity. He was twice suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
A few years ago, Odom apologized to former coach Alvin Gentry for his behavior, saying he thought he helped cost Gentry his job.
"There were a lot of great times," Odom said. "I was young and sometimes I did things in an immature way. But we all learn. I've learned so much. I'm sitting here, 32 years old, with a daughter that's graduating high school, I'm a completely different person."
Odom left the Clippers in 2003 when he signed an offer sheet with the Miami Heat. The Clippers didn't match it, however, in part because of Odom's negative public comments about the organization.
It's time to be fresh and get back to that aggressive style of basketball I was playing when I did win Sixth Man of the Year.” -- Lamar Odom
That was a long time ago though and both Odom and the Clippers seem ready for a fresh start.
"I've known Lamar his entire career," Clippers president Andy Roeser said. "I remember signing him to his first contract in 1999. I've had a chance to watch him grow as a player and a person. I think he's evolved into a terrific man and a terrific person. I think this is the right place for him to be at the right time."
When asked if he was satisfied Odom could bounce back after averaging a career low 6.6 points a game and shooting 35.2 percent from the field in Dallas last season, Roeser smiled and said:
"We wanted to know: 'Did he want to be a part of it and why?' And we were very satisfied with his reasons. He wants to help us win."
To demonstrate that commitment, Odom told ESPNLosAngeles.com that he is considering pulling out of consideration for the Summer Olympics to "do what it takes for me to be ready in October. I think that's what's most important. That's what I'm going to be judged by."
Odom wore a slick gray suit and blue and red Clippers-themed tie to his press conference. To top off the look, he wore blue suede shoes.
But after his awful season with the Mavericks, he knew it was going to take a lot more than talk and a nice suit to rehabilitate his image.
Odom posted career lows in scoring (6.6 ppg), rebounding (4.2 rpg) and field goal percentage (35.2 percent) with Dallas after they traded a first-round draft pick to the Lakers to acquire him.
Odom had requested a trade from the Lakers after learning he'd been included in their failed attempt to acquire Paul from the New Orleans Hornets.
Besides the trade, he was also dealing with incredible personal grief after his cousin was killed in New York City last summer. Then, while attending his cousin's funeral, he was a passenger in a car that struck a motorcycle rider that resulted in the death of a pedestrian.
"I went through a lot, on the court and off the court," Odom said. "My spirit wasn't into it (last season).
"Sometimes we go through things in life that hold us back. But you won't ever see that again.
"I've put that behind me and now it's time to move forward. It's time to be fresh and get back to that aggressive style of basketball I was playing when I did win Sixth Man of the Year (with the Lakers in 2011)."
Odom said his on-court struggles had a lot more to do with those personal issues than his involvement in the E! Network reality show he stars in with his wife, Khloe Kardashian.
"Since last year and going on the TV show, a lot of people have 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 on basketball is there.
"There's a lot of things I want to make right. I know what kind of player I am and I just want to get back to that level. I told coach that I'm 100 percent in for whatever he needs and wants to get done. I'll be his soldier."
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said he's hopeful Odom's championship experience and versatility can help the Clippers, who were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs last season.
"He's an unselfish player and he plays the game the right way," Del Negro said. "We're going to do everything we can to put him in an environment where he can succeed. He's going to be a big part of our team.
"There was obviously a lot of questions. But in getting to know Lamar a little bit and talking about a lot of things, at the end of the conversation I just felt that he was committed and wanted to be back in a Clippers uniform.
"All the other things in the past, are in the past. I wanted to see his commitment to the organization and the team. Andy and Gary felt the same way. That's what we want. We want players that are committed to the process, committed to the fanbase and want to win basketball games. I feel Lamar will be ready."
Del Negro, Roeser and director of player personnel Gary Sacks are currently running the Clippers front office. Roeser generally takes the lead in salary cap issues and contract negotiations. Del Negro has been playing a lead role in reaching out to the Clippers free agent targets, while Sacks primarily ran the team's draft preparations and player evaluations.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Saturday that Griffin has informed team officials he will sign a five-year contract extension that could be worth up to $95 million. He has not officially agreed to anything as the details and structure of the deal are still being studied, sources said. But the process is not expected to be problematic and he will likely sign the extension as soon as he's able to on July 11.
During the first part of free agency, the Clippers have targeted free agent shooting guards Jamal Crawford, Ray Allen, Courtney Lee, Nick Young, and Bobby Simmons according to sources. They would also like to bring back point Chauncey Billups, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury, but could return midway through this season.
The Clippers are planning to have a meeting with Crawford on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles is expected to offer Crawford, who played last year with the Portland Trail Blazers, the mid-level exception, the Times reported.