Lamar Odom is certainly checking off all the boxes for off-court activities that will doom an NBA return. But even despite a rocky past few weeks — and an underwhelming last couple of seasons — at least one former coach isn’t writing off Odom’s ability if he should choose to commit to the game and return to the NBA.
Odom was arrested Friday on a drunken driving charge, the latest in a series of events in recent weeks that indicated that Odom’s life off the court was going off the rails while he was playing his worst basketball on it. Odom is said to have had a cocaine addiction over the past three years that affected his play as well as his marriage to Khloe Kardashian.
Now, with the NBA season approaching, few people have stepped up in defense of Odom, now a free agent, playing in the league again. Except for Vinny Del Negro, that is.
The former Clippers coach, who led Los Angeles last season as Odom put up 4.0 points and 5.9 rebounds a game (well off his career averages and the form that made him a regular Sixth Man of the Year contender), came to Odom’s defense this week.
“He is a good guy, a good teammate,” Del Negro told Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times. “Everybody liked him. There were no issues.”
The problem is not his talent — it’s Odom committing to tap that talent and not be influenced by whatever else is going on, Del Negro said.
“Lamar can still play,” he said. “It’s not the basketball skills that are the problem. Once he gets himself in shape and gets his mind wrapped around basketball, he can help somebody.”
Del Negro pointed to what appeared to be Odom’s main deficiency over the last couple of years — motivation. Odom halved his career averages while appearing to lack buy-in in his new roles with the Dallas Mavericks and Clippers after a long, productive time with the Lakers.
“I understand he is going through a lot right now,” Del Negro said. “It is never easy. He has always had some difficult obstacles, and they weigh on him a lot. You feel bad, but you hope he is all right.”
Odom has a rocky past, and he has had trouble away from the game before. Before, though, he found a way to capitalize when it came to playing basketball.
With Del Negro out of the NBA this year, Odom will have to hope he gets another ally willing to give him a try.