Lamar Odom, the centerpiece of a rising Clipper organization, was suspended Monday for at least five games without pay by the NBA for the second time in eight months for violating the terms of the league’s anti-drug program.
Odom, 22, will not be eligible to return until at least Nov. 16, when the Clippers host the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center. He suffered a bruised left foot Saturday against the Golden State Warriors and probably could not have played Monday against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I am very disappointed,” Elgin Baylor, Clipper general manager, said in a written statement distributed to reporters before the game. “Lamar has let his teammates down as well as our entire organization. But, at the same time, we must remain supportive and available to help him confront this issue in a positive and corrective way.”
Said Coach Alvin Gentry: “It’s ridiculous that it’s happened. We’re very disappointed. I don’t think mad is the right word. I’m more disappointed. He’s a great kid and a great person.”
Odom was not available for comment. Under the terms of his suspension, he is banned from attending Clipper games, but can participate in practices. He averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the team’s first three games, all losses.
After he was suspended March 7 for five games for violating the NBA’s drug policy, Odom said, “This will definitely not happen again. The fans have been great to me since I’ve been here, and I hope it continues. I hope everyone doesn’t pass judgment on my mistake. I’ve made a couple and I may make a couple again, but hopefully they won’t be as big as this one.”
In March, league sources told The Times that Odom tested positive for marijuana and failed to comply with the league’s aftercare program. There was no word Monday whether Odom again was suspended for the same reasons.
The NBA, its teams and the players’ association are prohibited from publicly disclosing information regarding the testing or treatment of any player in the program. So, it’s unclear what might happen if Odom violates the NBA’s drug policy for a third time. There is no three-strikes law in the league.
Under section 11 of the agreement between the league and the players, players testing positive for marijuana can be suspended for five games an indefinite number of times. Players caught using other drugs, including steroids, can be “dismissed and disqualified” from the league for a period of not less than two years.
Gentry said he did not speak with Odom on Monday, but hoped to hear from him today. Odom also did not show up for a doctor’s appointment to have his injured foot X-rayed Monday, according to a team official.
“Maybe [today] he needs to take a day to step back from everything, but after that, yeah, I expect him to be at practice,” said Gentry, who plans to fine Odom if he doesn’t attend Wednesday’s practice. “I can sympathize with his situation, but that’s as far as it goes. He’s got to be like everybody else on the team.”
In fact, Odom has been a rather large part of the Clippers ever since he was taken fourth overall in the 1999 draft. A versatile 6-foot-10 forward, Odom is featured in season-ticket advertisements. He is pictured, with Darius Miles and Elton Brand at his side, on the cover of the team’s media guide.
Last season, Odom led the team with averages of 17 points and 7.8 rebounds as the Clippers improved to 31 victories, from 15 in 1999-2000. The Clippers were 1-4 while he served a drug suspension from March 8-18.
Season ticket sales spiked to more than 12,000 for 2001-02, and Saturday’s home opener against Golden State drew a sellout crowd of 19,445 to Staples Center, the largest in franchise history.
Gentry referred to the Clippers being “Odom’s team” several times during training camp. Odom, Brand and veteran Sean Rooks were named last week as the team’s captains. Gentry was uncertain Monday about Odom’s status as a captain in the wake of his suspension, however.
“I don’t think he’s a person who is out of control,” Rooks said. “Regardless of how long he’s suspended, we’re going to support him and anxiously await his return. It’s an unfortunate thing that happened to him again. Hopefully, he can get past it.”
Odom, a New York City native, has had a checkered past. He attended three high schools during his senior year. In college at Rhode Island, he sat out for a year and a semester because the NCAA questioned his qualifying test scores.
After playing one season at Rhode Island, he hired an agent and announced he was making himself eligible for the NBA draft. Later, he attempted to rescind the announcement and re-enroll in school.
“The biggest thing will be how the media and the fans treat him when he comes back [from this suspension],” Rooks said. “We need him to succeed.”
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* Suspended March 7, 2001 for five games for violating league drug policy.
* Suspended Nov. 5 for at least five games for violating drug policy.
* Anyone testing positive for cocaine, heroin or other “hard drugs” is barred for two years.
* After a positive test for marijuana, first-time offender must undergo mandatory counseling. Second positive test includes $15,000 fine. Subsequent positive tests result in five-game suspensions and counseling.