Lamar Odom has spent most of his career hiding from the spotlight, shrouded by the superstars around him. He's spent nearly his entire career in Los Angeles, a city built on stardom, and he's been able to merely blend in, steering clear of the public eye as much as possible.
Odom is now 30 years old. Since he was 24, he's been playing next to Kobe Bryant in a Lakers uniform, and he's never had to carry the heavy load. He's been a supporting actor in a town dominated by leading men.
It's possible that this summer, when Odom takes the court with Team USA at the world championships in Turkey, he'll be thrust into more of a leadership role than ever before.
Of the 15 Americans left on Mike Krzyzewski's USA Basketball roster, with three cuts left to come later this month, Odom and point guard Chauncey Billups are the only ones over the age of 27. The rest are a motley mix of early 20-somethings, with more than a couple of lottery picks from the last few years. It's up to the vets to lead the way.
This role is nothing new for Billups, who's been a leader in Detroit and Denver for most of his career. But for Odom, who's been a role player for longer than he can remember, even spending most of the last two seasons coming off the bench behind Pau Gasol, this is a jarring change.
Off the floor, he's got to be a calming influence in the sea of egos that is Team USA. The roster is dominated by youngsters that are used to captaining their respective NBA teams, and Odom has to show the maturity to set everyone straight. He's got to keep his younger, less mature teammates in line.
On the basketball court, he's absolutely going to be key for Team USA — the international game is a guard-dominated one where speed and quickness reign supreme, and Odom is the perfect big man for this tournament. He's a long, lean 6-foot-10, with the ability to use his length and his mobility on both ends of the floor. He's not used to playing center, but he's got the right team and the right environment to give it a try this summer.
The other bigs on the American roster are equally mobile and versatile. There's Kevin Love, a hardworking and fundamentally sound power forward from the Timberwolves, getting his first taste of international competition at 21, and there's Jeff Green, the third member of the Oklahoma City Thunder to make the cut so far after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
These are the big men that thrive in the international game — guys that can move, play defense and spread the floor on the offensive end with their scoring range. Odom, Love and Green are all those guys.
Coach K might not need to bring all three with him to Turkey. He's still got three guys to cut, and he might trim away one more power forward before all's said and done.
Love and Green are talented players, but they're still young and still growing. Either one could be on the chopping block.
But Odom, with all his acumen and wisdom, is a must-keep for Team USA. It's not the leadership role he's accustomed to, but it's the one he's stumbled upon this summer.