Los Angeles Clippers: Will Lamar Odom Return to Form?

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterAugust 23, 2012

4 Dec 2001:  Portrait of forward Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the NBA game against the Miami Heat at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers defeated the Heat 87-83.  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. Mandatory copyright notice \ Mandatory Credit:  Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Lamar Odom is back in Los Angeles, this time with the team that drafted him in 1999 (the Clippers) rather than the team with whom he won two NBA titles (the Lakers).

But will playing in the Staples Center and keeping up with the Kardashians result in a return to the straight-and-narrow on the court for LO?

If settling into more hectic surroundings in the City of Angels brings a sense of normalcy to Odom's frenetic life—and if an abysmal season with the Dallas Mavericks is any source of motivation—then a bounce-back season should be in store for the former Sixth Man of the Year.

Usually, it'd be tough to chalk a poor campaign up to personal issues, but in Odom's case, the notion isn't so farfetched. He's known as one of the more sensitive guys in The Association. He spent much of his time with the Mavs dealing with the after-effects of tragedy and tumult in his life off the court. He stayed away from the game for most of the lockout while he was coping with the murder of his cousin, as well as the death of a pedestrian who was hit by a car in which he was riding while in New York for the family funeral.

As such, Odom was out of shape both physically and mentally at the start of training camp, and may well have struggled as a result even if the Lakers hadn't opted to ship him out.

Not that a sudden change of scenery helped matters any. Odom was slated to join the New Orleans Hornets as part of the Chris Paul deal, and subsequently demanded a trade after commissioner David Stern stepped in to nix the previous arrangement. The Lakers did their best to accommodate him by sending him to a Mavs squad that'd just knocked LA out of the playoffs and ended up hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy the spring prior.

Then again, as Kobe Bryant told ESPN's Marc Stein, a trip to Big D may not have been the best thing for Odom from a basketball perspective:

"He comes to a team that's pretty much set, you know what I mean? So it's hard for him to find his niche. The fans, they don't really understand what he does or how he can do it, you know what I mean?

I hope they don't unlock that mystery. I know. I know how to use him and to use his skill set and this, that and the other. But with this team, the roster that they had being pretty much set, it's tough for him to be able to find his groove here."

It's no wonder, then, that Odom—physically out of shape, mentally distraught and unfocused, and stuck behind Dirk Nowitzki on the depth chart—posted an abysmal line of 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 20.5 minutes per game, not a year after being named the league's top reserve. He was berated by fans, media and members of the organization alike for his perceived lack of effort and was essentially told to stay away from the team after a spat with owner Mark Cuban in April.

Could things have gotten any worse for LO? Perhaps, but not by much. He came about as close to hitting rock bottom as he could have without jeopardizing his health or winding up on the wrong side of the law.

Which, in a way, bodes well for his third go-round in LA. He should be plenty motivated, out to prove that last year was the fluke of all flukes and that he's a far better player and person than he showed in Dallas. He'll be back in a city that he knows and loves, on a veteran Clippers squad that'll be contending for home-court advantage in the Western Conference, in a role as sixth man with which he's eminently familiar.

Not that Odom's homecoming is a slam dunk all around. As successful as he was at times during his four-year stint with the Clips, he ran into his fair share of trouble with injuries, drugs and other off-court issues, albeit as a much more naive kid in his early 20s.

Odom is no longer that young buck, which is both good and bad; he's seemingly wise enough to keep his nose clean this time around, but, at age 32 (going on 33 in November), it's possible that Odom is already over the hill. He should be able to rebound from his nightmare season, though the extent of that recovery figures to be mitigated by the inevitable decay of his corporeal talents.

The Clippers, though, won't need him to put up 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists on a nightly basis, as he did during his final season as a Laker. What they need from Odom, rather, is the versatility on the floor and leadership in the locker room that made him a key catalyst behind three trips to the NBA Finals for the team that plays across the hall. 

If Odom can overcome the demons that plagued him over the past year to reliably anchor a second unit with Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, then the Clips may well find themselves in position to make a deep postseason run in 2013.

In which case, it'd be up to the Kardashians to keep up with him.