What happened to the Lamar Odom he used to know and love?


Lamar Odom was the first one to make himself available to the media Friday. It stands as his only contribution in the playoffs to date.

“I’ve played poorly,” Odom admits, far kinder in his own assessment than Phil Jackson was a night earlier.

“Lamar’s been MIA so far,” Jackson said, and although he said he told Odom almost the same thing, he said Odom’s response was to smile.

I happen to like Lamar Odom like almost no other player, 11 years now, and I’ve never seen him cranky, disrespectful or big-headed as many Lakers can be.

His talent is extraordinary, his potential discussed, argued and never quite reached in 11 years, but as somewhat of an Odom observer and fan for all that time, something’s wrong now, terribly wrong with Odom.

The Lakers have other problems, of course, teammates ignoring Bynum and Gasol inside, but straightening out Odom might do wonders in hiding such basketball sins.

Now I hear the people behind me almost everywhere yelling, “Hey, Mr. Kardashian,” or something about Khloe, and although Odom is more sensitive and aware than most while on the court, at best he’s only going to give them the smile he gave Jackson.

So that’s not it.

As a rule, when Odom goes into a funk as he has, it’s because he’s lost his aggressiveness, stepping back in favor of Bryant — more often than not waiting for the game to come to him.

Phil has his theory. He says the young, quick and agile defenders assigned to Odom in this series have befuddled Odom, the responsibility now Odom’s to adapt.

It really is troubling, because for all the talk about what Odom doesn’t get done most of the time, he has always shown up big in the playoffs.

“These three games have probably been my lowest since I started playing in the playoffs,” he says.

No “probably” about it. This is his sixth year in the playoffs, in the first five averaging 16.8 points, 19.1, 19.4, 14.3 and 12.3.

Against the Thunder he’s averaging 6.3 points, all three of his appearances offering no discernible impact.

In his previous playoff runs, he has averaged 8.3 rebounds a game, 11, 13, 10 and 9.1.

He has given the Lakers an average of 6.7 so far.

“As Jim Harrick told me,” Lamar says — things going so badly he’s now quoting Harrick, “basketball is the most humbling experience in life.”

Take Game 3, first quarter, Bryant on the bench, Odom with the ball and setting himself up above the three-point line for the final shot.

He takes it, but only after stepping back to make it more difficult, doing his Kobe imitation, I guess. He misses badly, making the case he really was imitating Kobe.

Phil is immediately in Lamar’s face, as angry as you might ever see him on the sideline. Phil walks away but returns a moment later to give it to Odom again.

End of third quarter, Kobe on the bench, ball in Lamar’s hands and same result.

“I can watch the tape and show you things I am doing like getting guys open with a screen or a pass,” Odom says and even he has to admit later it’s a weak argument.

It’s time to deliver or really read about it, he’s told, Page 2 getting paid nothing extra for these little uplifting speeches given on occasion to our local athletes — just part of the job.

“I know,” Odom says. “I will.”

He better, because it’s obvious now Phil doesn’t trust Lamar, a staggering turn of events when you consider Lamar has always been one of his favorite players because of his versatility and the importance Phil places on self-sacrifice in the name of teamwork.

When it came to re-signing Odom in the off-season, it was Jackson who backed him, the Lakers’ moneybags listening to the head coach and giving Odom $33 million over four years.

But right now Jackson has Odom playing 24 minutes a game, the same player who averaged almost 37 minutes in 69 previous playoff games.

It’s easy to understand why, especially when listening to Odom confirm the suspicion he’s a lost soul.

“When I think of the game offensively, I’ve got to kind of play like a jazz musician — you know how they kind of just go anywhere and do anything.”

Then he goes on to say something that needs to be verified. “I don’t think Phil would mind if I played outside of the offense,” he says.

So I go to Phil and he says, “I think Lamar has to go back into the offense rather than do the freelance thing.”

Page 2’s suggestion to Phil: “You might mention that to Lamar today.”

“I will,” says Jackson, and there you go, the Lakers all fixed.