Commentary

Odom roller coaster in down cycle

Updated: September 4, 2013, 10:18 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

There are people in various corners of the NBA map trying to help the man right now. We're talking former teammates and coaches and a clutch of confidants who don't want their names out there because they're not looking for attention for their efforts.

All they want to see is Lamar Joseph Odom dislodge himself at last from one of the scariest downward spirals to engulf an NBA player in the 21st century.

The lanky lefty is reviled in Dallas after that one nightmare season as a Maverick and has been forced to weather years of Twitter jabs on top of smothering coverage from Hollywood since marrying the famously polarizing Khloe Kardashian. Yet for most of his time on Planet NBA, Odom has been known as a sweet and popular dude who's held in high regard by almost everyone he encounters.

Which is why lots of folks out there are pulling for him to pull himself together.

Just one example was transmitted in two recent Pau Gasol tweets: "I wish my friend @LamarOdom is doing well. All these rumors are really worrying me. Lamar is one of the best guys I've ever played with."

Lakers legend Magic Johnson later added: "I hope my man and former Laker Lamar Odom is doing okay." Which prompted this follow-up tweet from ex-Odom coach Phil Jackson: "Double ditto, LO."

My fondness for southpaws has never been a secret in this cyberspace, but that was never really why I was drawn to Odom. Few players in the two decades I've been blessed to cover this league have been on Lamar's level when it comes to the bare-his-soul interview, which is what made Odom's locker a must-stop for pretty much anyone toting a tape recorder during his first 12 seasons as a pro and all the successes and troubles they contained.

Then came the near trade to New Orleans as part of the original Chris Paul deal, followed by the actual trade that ended Odom's stay with the Lakers and dispatched him to Dallas, capped by the abrupt mutual parting with the Mavericks late in the 2011-12 season after four months of unrecognizable play and a decisive locker-room blowup with Mavs owner Mark Cuban in Memphis.

The theory here, as I've long maintained, is that Odom is the one prominent NBA personality who never wanted the dreaded 2011 lockout to end. Lamar might have helped Kobe and Pau to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, but he just wasn't mentally ready to go back to work in December 2011 after two well-chronicled tragedies hit him that summer in a matter of days after a lifetime of tragedies to that point. There's only so much one man can suffer -- even someone who'd been as resilient as Odom after the deaths of his mother, grandmother and infant son -- before one's work is affected.

Yet that's likely only a fraction of the equation by this stage. So much has happened since Odom's January 2012 confession to ESPN.com that Khloe had to talk the one-time sixth man extraordinaire out of retirement during the lockout ... especially over these past six weeks. There are lots of theories in circulation now, amid various reports of substance abuse, but what's going on to trigger the daily and deepening flood of worrisome Lamar headlines in recent weeks is surely too multilayered for sportswriters to diagnose in a snap.

We've reached the point, after Odom's arrest Friday morning on suspicion of DUI, where it's likewise on the pointless side to talk about his free agency or wonder whether, at 33, we'll ever see his unique brand of five-position versatility stuffed into a 6-10 frame back on the floor someday. There are more pressing concerns.

More pressing, even, than the Sept. 27 court date he now faces after the DUI incident, which regrettably happens to fall on his fourth wedding anniversary.

We've simply reached the point, amid mounting worry among his friends and fans in this game, where you wonder who, if anyone, he's listening to these days. And whether anyone has a hope of getting through to him.

And where you're almost afraid to hear what happens next.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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