Can Lamar Odom Use Spanish Basketball as Springboard Back to the NBA?

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterFebruary 18, 2014

FILE - In this March 26, 2013, file photo, Los Angeles Clippers' Lamar Odom looks on from the court during an NBA basketball game in Dallas. Former NBA player Lamar Odom pleaded no contest to a drunken driving charge Monday, Dec. 12, 2013, and accepted a sentence of three years’ probation and three months of alcohol abuse treatment. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade, File)
Brandon Wade/Associated Press

The last time Lamar Odom sought out a change of scenery, his NBA career fell into disrepair, to the point where he left the Dallas Mavericks on bad terms before washing out of the league entirely after a forgettable 2012-13 season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Now, Odom heads to Spain in a Humpty Dumpty-esque effort to put the pieces of his basketball life back together again.

Whether Odom is able to turn things around thousands of miles from home will be a story well worth tracking, even amidst the chaos of the NBA's stretch run from now through the end of the spring.

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Odom's road to redemption will begin in the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, where he'll suit up for Laboral Kutxa Baskonia of Spain's Liga ACB. The roster Odom will be joining at Baskonia is already replete with international talent. He'll be Laboral's second American, alongside former St. John's standout Lamont Hamilton, among a contingent whose members hail from 12 different countries.

Odom will also be one of two NBA veterans in town, next to Argentine swingman Andres Nocioni. A third, Tibor Pleiss, was drafted by the then-New Jersey Nets in 2010, but he has yet to arrive stateside.

The makeup of Odom's new teammates is but a scratch on the surface of what could be a tremendous opportunity for a late-career comeback. Tau Ceramica, as the team is known, could certainly use Odom's talents; they currently sit in ninth place among the 18 teams at the top level of Spanish basketball and dead-last in their Euroleague group.

It certainly doesn't hurt Odom's case that he'll be working under Sergio Scariolo, one of the most decorated coaches in Europe. Scariolo's extensive resume includes three league championships (one in Italy, two in Spain), two Spanish cup titles, Coach of the Year honors in Italy and Spain, and gold medals with the Spanish national team at EuroBasket in 2009 and 2011.

Best of all for Odom, Baskonia has established itself as a pipeline of talent to the Association over the last decade or so. Jose Calderon, Fabricio Oberto, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, Tiago Splitter and Mirza Teletovic all share ties to Tau Ceramica.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Of course, those guys were all significantly younger and much lighter on baggage than the 34-year-old Odom will be. The tumult of Odom's personal life returned to the fore this past summer, when he succumbed to yet another bout with substance abuse that contributed to the end of his made-for-TV marriage with Khloe Kardashian.

Yet, even after that episode—which came on the heels of two terrible seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and the Clippers—Odom wasn't entirely without suitors. Evidently, versatile, veteran forwards with championships and Sixth Man of the Year awards on their resume don't just disappear, as the Clips made clear when Doc Rivers brought Lamar in for a pair of visits in November.

"I'm going to keep talking to him," Rivers said at the time (via Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times). "I don't know what our plans are yet. I like Lamar. I want him to be in the NBA. And if things go right, here."

"Having said that, I just want him to do well. Obviously, if he does well, we'd like for it to be for us. But let's say he doesn't come here and he does well in the NBA, I'd be just as happy, honestly. I look at the guy and I think he's a good guy and he needs another shot."

Odom didn't get that shot, even after spending extensive time with renowned trainer Rob McClanaghan in Rhode Island, where Lamar played his college ball (per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski).

Odom will need much more than just a few good workouts here and there to work his way from Spain back to the U.S. For one, he'll need to prove that he can be a productive member of a winning team, that he can still handle the rigors and demands that come with being a professional basketball player.

Doing so won't be any easier in a foreign country, even if the quality of the competition isn't on par with what Odom once thrived amongst in the NBA. If Odom's ill-fated stint in Dallas is any indication, he may not take well to such a drastic change of scenery.

Then again, getting away from his usual environment, in which he's clearly struggled over the years, could be good for Odom. He won't be subject to quite the same set of pressures and expectations. Nor will he be so easily able to drift back into those old, bad habits that seemed to beckon him at every turn in America.

With some distance and clarity, perhaps Odom will find himself refreshed and ready to commit himself wholly, in mind and body, to the game again. Perhaps playing for a team that desperately needs him to shine will bring out the best in Odom and re-awaken the dormant talents as an all-court threat with which he found so much success in the NBA.

Even then, there's no guarantee that Odom will ever play in the Association again. Chances are, there won't be many teams (if any) in need of a mid-30s forward with a penchant for self-destructive behavior—fewer still if you consider Odom's long-standing preference for big-city clubs, particularly the Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers.

There also isn't much precedent for what Odom is attempting to accomplish. The closest comparison in Odom's age bracket is Dominique Wilkins. At 36, Wilkins bolted from the rebuilding Boston Celtics to play in Greece in 1995-96. Two years later, he crossed the Atlantic again to compete in Italy.

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 3:  Dominique Wilkins #12 of the Boston Celtics looks on during a game against the Chicago Bull on December 4, 1994 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Celtics won 125-109.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

But, unlike Odom, Wilkins was still good enough to play in the NBA when he switched continents. He averaged nearly 18 points per game with the C's in 1994-95 and led the San Antonio Spurs in scoring when he returned to the league in 1996-97. His time in Europe came largely by his own design, not as the result of poor habits and a bad rap.

Odom, on the other hand, would probably be staging his comeback within the confines of the NBA if it were up to him. But it's not, which likely has something to do with Lamar's decision to search for his basketball soul in Iberia.

The odds of Odom returning home to an NBA contract are decidedly slim, but if there's anyone who just might be able to pull it off, it's him. He's overcome all manner of obstacles in his life, both on and off the court, and both L.A. teams had been monitoring his progress closely before he signed with Baskonia.

An NBA comeback would mark just the latest in a long line of triumphs over adversity that have come to define Odom's rocky career, while setting the stage for an ending that any and every basketball fan can appreciate.


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