Lamar Odom: What's Next in the Strange Career of a Remarkable Talent?

Bethlehem Shoals@freedarkoNBA Lead WriterApril 11, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - MAY 11:  Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference at the Lakers training facility on May 11, 2011 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers were swept out of their best of seven series with the Dallas Mavericks four games to none. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Lamar Odom is done with the Dallas Mavericks. Actually, in typical Lamar Odom fashion, nothing is ever cut-and-dry, totally resolved or fully in the rear-view mirror. He's not released, but will be inactive for the rest of the season. However, he can be bought out by another team if they so desire. 

It's a bizarre ending to an episode in a career that's been defined by sad, unlikely twists of fate. Odom showed up in Dallas heartbroken and out of shape after being dumped by the Los Angeles Lakers and spent the lockout ruminating over several personal tragedies.

Some have wondered if he thought there was even going to be a season at all, but a better question might be: Did Lamar Odom even want to play basketball? Seeing Odom lumbering, clueless and practically dazed as he struggled to connect with his new teammates and find a way to fit into a post-championship Dallas scheme was a supreme bummer.

That's the thing with Odom: Everywhere he goes, he has to reinvent himself. Odom is an incredibly natural talent, but he has no natural position or role on the floor. The level of success he achieves on a team has as much to do with the way he's used, and the ways he figures out how to use himself, as how good he is as a basketball player.

Few would dispute that Odom, even in this diminished state, is a very good player. The problem is what to do with him, and it's been clear all along that neither Odom nor the Mavericks had an answer there.

Of course, a lot of that tension resulted from his physical shape and state of mind. But with Odom, there's simply not the possibility of plugging him in and expecting him to contribute, or for his part, asking him to phone it in.

There's really nothing less than total commitment possible with Odom (and to Odom), which is strange and challenging for a player who has so often seemed distracted and spacey. Or, chicken and egg, maybe this reputation in part results from how hard it is to make sense of him as a player. 

In Dallas, Odom wasn't ready or wiling to play, and the team had no clear plan for him—perhaps because the Mavs never got a good look at what he was really capable of. It's a Zen-like paradox: Odom is so good that he's useless. It's almost literal in that there is no obvious use for Lamar Odom.

At the same time, if Odom isn't in shape or thinking straight, then he's useless in the sense of wasted. He doesn't lend himself to obvious answers, and is more likely than most to fall into crushing slumps that are almost reflections of his general state of mind. 

That's what makes Odom's next move—and rest assured, there will be one—so fascinating. Despite the morass of disappointment in Dallas, Odom is still Odom, one year removed from a season that should have landed him in the All-Star Game and did get him the Sixth Man of the Year award.

Albeit, one that came after several years of the Lakers trying to make sense of him, but still, he's Lamar effin' Odom. If he can get excited about basketball again, and a team can get a chance to be reminded of all that he offers. Once you get into that Venn diagram version of a scouting report, Odom is suddenly a great fit for any number of teams.

The obvious, and devastating, choice would be the Miami Heat. From a basketball junkie standpoint, it would be pure manna to see Odom out there with a lineup that already stresses unselfish deconstruction of traditional roles. Then again, that might leave things hopelessly vague for him.

Another possibility is the New York Knicks, who could use a skilled big. And then there's the Los Angeles Lakers, who could really use Odom for all the reasons he helped them in the past. He's a bargain, would be welcomed back and, if the two sides can put aside the past, it would give an instant boost to the Lakers.

Then again, with Odom, does the past ever really disappear?