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Posted: Monday December 15, 2008 4:38PM; Updated: Monday December 15, 2008 4:55PM
Paul Forrester Paul Forrester >
INSIDE THE NBA

Odom takes one for the team

Story Highlights

Longtime starter Lamar Odom has had to adjust to a bench role with the Lakers

Odom, a versatile forward, has made the move with free agency looming

More notes: Spurs back in a groove; Heat's Marion, Kings owners off the mark

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Lamar Odom is coming off the bench with regularity for the first time in his career.
John W. McDonough/SI
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As often as it takes place, change doesn't come easy in the NBA. Team chemistry has to be reestablished, new plays need to be learned and a host of additional adjustments must be made by players and coaches before everyone is comfortable with a new situation. Making a trade or coaching shakeup work becomes a shared burden.

When a change comes internally, though, when a long-established veteran starter suddenly finds himself on the bench, as Lamar Odom does with the Lakers, the process is a lot more personal.

After opening training camp by complaining about the possibility of being used as a reserve and clashing with coach Phil Jackson, Odom is adjusting to his new role and fresh set of responsibilities.

"Individually, there are pluses and minuses to moving to the bench," Odom said in a telephone interview. "There's a big difference from knowing you're going to take 12 shots a game to now being able to take only four shots. That changes how you get involved in the game."

More important for Odom, it also changes how others perceive how useful his involvement is. That's no small thing considering the 10-year veteran is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. With his playing time reduced to a career-low 25.7 minutes a game in his first season as an NBA reserve, Odom could be hard-pressed to show he is still capable of being the elite second fiddle that the Lakers acquired him to be in 2004.

"It's a crapshoot. I could be heralded for the move or it could come back and kick my a--. It's a 50-50 shot," said Odom, who is on the books for $14.1 million this season.

"A team could be realistic and consider what I did my first nine years in the NBA and why I'm coming off the bench this year, or they could say, 'We know what to expect from him as a starter; I guess he's not a starter anymore.' That's a gamble. [But] I think the team success will have a lot to do with that, and I made that bet this team can be successful, so it shouldn't, as far as the business side of things, come back to hurt me."

Riding the Lakers' coattails might be Odom's best route to a lucrative new deal. Through Sunday, Odom was averaging personal lows of 8.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists for a 20-3 team. The decline results in part from playing 11 fewer minutes than his career average, but it also reflects a diminishing productivity. Projected over 36 minutes, Odom is averaging his worst marks in points (11.9 points) and assists (3.1) to go with 8.5 rebounds, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

Nevertheless, Lakers coach Phil Jackson is pushing Odom to lead the reserves. Jackson is calling on Odom less for his shot-making and more for his experience in anchoring a deep bench that includes explosive but inconsistent players such as Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic.

"Our bench play can be reckless, and we need our guys to play a certain way all the time, and that's with energy," Odom said. "But we need to recognize how we approach the game and how we take care of each other. When we get everyone involved, it seems like our energy defensively picks up."

After coming to grips with his removal from the starting lineup, Odom is publicly embracing the move.

"It's a sacrifice to win a championship," he said. "If I were playing on team I didn't think could make the playoffs, it would be a different story. This is the best team I've ever been on. This is a team everybody thinks can at least compete for a championship."

Of course, Odom also admitted, "If Phil Jackson wants you to do something, you do it."

What's hot

Saving the season in Philadelphia. Part of the reason for the Sixers' slow start is structural, as a lack of outside shooting has allowed opponents to pack the interior on defense, hampering Elton Brand and neutralizing Andre Iguodala's ability to drive the lane. The other part is strategic, as Mo Cheeks proved incapable of breathing life into the offense. The latter issue cost Cheeks his job, with assistant coach Tony DiLeo promoted with the marching orders to get the Sixers running again like they did in the second half of last season.

The Spurs' resurgence. Funny what a return to good health will do, like 10 wins in 12 games as San Antonio has grabbed a piece of the Southwest Division lead. All this before the Spurs hit their normal stride after the All-Star break.

Marcus Camby's defense. The Clippers may be sputtering, but the former Nugget has been a one-man gang on the defensive end. In seven games this month, Camby is averaging 4.0 blocks and 14.0 rebounds (10.0 off the defensive glass).

What's not

Kevin McHale's future. Taking a page from the playbook of Knicks ownership in how it maneuvered Isiah Thomas out, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor finally put in motion a plan to oust the rightly embattled McHale by having him coach the mess he created as the team's personnel boss. The Wolves were 4-19 entering Monday's visit to Sacramento after McHale lost his first four games on the bench.

Shawn Marion's turn as a star. We wonder if Marion is as thrilled about his move to the slower-paced Heat as he was last season. His scoring (12.3) and rebounding (9.1) haven't been this low since his rookie season in 1999-2000, and he's shooting 22.2 percent from three-point range. We suggest Marion bank a lot of the $17.8 million he'll make this season because he won't be getting close to that next summer when he hits free agency.

The Kings' decision-making. After firing Rick Adelman over general manager Geoff Petrie's objections, owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have just run through their second handpicked coach. Second-year coach Reggie Theus was fired on Monday, less than two years after Eric Musselman was shown the door following one season. Meanwhile, the team has sunk from contender to doormat. Clearly, the Kings' demise has plenty to do with age and a shifting roster, but doesn't it make sense to let the man acquiring the talent select a coach he feels best fits that talent? Especially when that man has been named the league's Executive of the Year twice?

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