After scoring 18 points and snagging six rebounds in Los Angeles' 107-94 victory over Utah, teammate Chris Paul showered the 33-year-old Odom with the highest of praise (via Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com):
Matt Barnes said he went to the hot tub time machine tonight. He came out, and there was that Lamar Odom that everybody around here has grown to know and love. With the spirit that he has, you have no choice but to be happy for him. That’s my guy. I’ve been waiting for him to do this because we know he’s capable of it, and we hope there’s more to come.
By "know and love," Paul of course meant "the guy we thought we traded for."
No one expects Odom to pitch in 18 points or hoist up 15 shots every night, but they assumed he was going to be perform at a level that brought an NBA title within closer reach.
Thus far, he hasn't. Odom's averaging a mere 3.9 points on 39.7 percent shooting in just over 20 minutes per game. His 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes are monstrous, but the Clippers need the well-rounded, aggressive former Sixth Man of the Year.
Odom has scored 10 or more points just twice this season and eight or more just eight times. The Clippers are 2-0 when he drops 10 or more and 7-1 when he tallies at least eight.
Ergo, the more he's involved, the better Los Angeles plays.
It wasn't just his 18 points that rendered his performance against the Jazz so impressive, though. It was his heightened sense of confidence. Looking for his shot, passing with a purpose and running the floor with vigor—that's what Los Angeles wants from him. That's what they need from him, to be more involved.
To contend for a championship, the Clippers can't have Odom playing a bit role. At 6'10" and capable of playing and defending every position on the floor, he has the opportunity to be a vital cog in a title-wielding machine.
Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite an onslaught of struggles and an absence of poise, the Clippers still believe Odom can assume that role. Not just because he's done it before or even because he's working his tail off in practice, but because they need him to.
Paul attempted to lure Kevin Garnett to Hollywood for a reason. Head coach Vinny Del Negro (and most of Los Angeles) doesn't trust DeAndre Jordan in the final minutes of games; they don't fancy him a championship-caliber big man.
Jordan is actually averaging fewer minutes per game (24.6) than last season (27.2) and reportedly clashing with Del Negro over his role. Mutual faith isn't something that's there.
Failing to move Jordan or anyone else at the trade deadline in favor of such dissent has left Los Angeles that much more dependent upon its current convocation, that much more subservient to resurgence of Odom.
His ability to defend centers and man the stretch 4 slot in the waning minutes of closely contested battles is invaluable. With his rebounding alone, he is able to all but replace Jordan's presence when needed.
Can Lamar Odom still be the leader of a championship-caliber supporting cast?
But the Clippers need more, otherwise such trepidation wouldn't exist when it comes to relying on Jordan for anything more than 25 minutes of only somewhat meaningful basketball.
As one of the most versatile two-way athletes to ever play the game, Odom can fill that need. He can be the defining member of a title-seeking supporting cast.
"Without that game he has tonight, we don’t win," Paul said of Odom after the team's victory over the Jazz.
Without Odom being Odom, without him soaking in the "hot tub time machine" and without him emulating the player Los Angeles came to "know and love," the Clippers won't be winning a championship either.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.