By Rob Scott / @robscott33
Laboral Kutxa have signed Lamar Odom. Yes, that Lamar Odom. NBA Champion, FIBA World Champion (yes, NBA fans, those are two different things) NBA Sixth Man of the Year and surreal reality show character/weirdo/victim (delete according to viewpoint). A decorated, but troubled player taking a desperate last chance on saving his career.
It’s tough to picture Odom as the grizzled hoops veteran who just can’t quit the game he loves. After trying out for the Los Angeles Clippers in November, they decided to explore other options. When those other options were a fat man impersonating Steven Jackson and a fat man who has been impersonating Hedo Türkoğlu for the last few years, that should tell you something about Odom’s condition back then. The evidence of last season, which he spent in Clippers colours, is even more damning, his 4.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 19 minutes a far cry from the matchup nightmare, multi-positional savant who finished games for the NBA champion Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
There was an un-nerving speed with which he lost his mojo after winning gold with USA in Turkey in 2010, when he played centre and reprised his Lakers role as a omni-skilled frontcourt Swiss Army Knife. This is a guy who has been through a high-profile divorce in the bizarro-world of Hollywood, faced demons and an alleged drug habit, who once said he would only play for Miami or Los Angeles because he loved living on the beach. It’s tempting to assume that this career move shows a man on the run from his problems, or one who is desperate for money, or both.
It is almost the perfect set-up for, well, a reality show. I’m still not convinced that won’t be the case. The once-magical player who always seemed like a mood-swing away from losing it, goes on a picaresque romp across the ocean. Perhaps Odom doesn’t know what to do after basketball, perhaps this is the ultimate ‘YOLO’ move and we’re all overthinking it.
All the while, probably un-noticed Stateside, hovering in the background is the visage of Misko Raznatović, the most powerful agent in European hoops. Could this two-month commitment, guaranteed to make headlines and sell a few more tickets be nothing more than a quid-pro-quo for a bigger deal for one of Raznatović’s many, many other clients in the summer?
So far, only questions. It’s unlikely that Odom has much to give. His availability has been known around the NBA for four months, at a point in the season where any corpse that once bore a jersey in the Association could get the pro-rated veteran minimum.
This kind of late-career move overseas hardly ever happens anymore, for the simple reason that most NBA players make more money than they’ll ever need – provided they manage their finances – and the money in Europe for all but the most proven, biggest names has dried up. China is the new retirement home for NBA misfits and faded legends.
Josh Childress was the last, not the first in a swarm of American NBA players to volunteer for a Transatlantic trip. The likes of Dominique Wilkins suiting up for Panathinaikos is largely a thing of the past. Odom is a marginal NBA player at this moment, and there is a long list of marginal NBA players who haven’t found Europe to be the step-down in difficulty they might have imagined.
On the other hand, Lamont Hamilton is out for up to six weeks with plantar fasciitis. The market for a Euroleague-eligible big man is wafer thin, and anyone worth getting would have come at the expense of a buy-out fee for his current team. Josean Querejeta has reportedly committed $100,000 to Odom, at $50,000 per month for a two-month tryout. When you add up a buyout plus salary, on an average replacement such as Fenerbahçe recently secured in Blagota Sekulić, you can see why a swing for the fences might be more appealing.
In a way it’s sad to see the team that developed Luis Scola, Jose Calderon and Tiago Splitter resort to a ‘stunt’ such as this. A change of strategy is desperately needed in Vitoria-Gastiez, beginning with the head coach position and the apparent satisfaction with sustaining a level of comfortable mediocrity at both ACB and Euroleague level. The stalled progress of Ilimane Diop and Devon van Oostrum has disappointed everybody. But February is not the time to change course, and if Odom can help Baskonia stay in the playoff hunt in Spain, it will have been money well spent. If not, they haven’t made any kind of long-term promise.
The odds are against this move succeeding are stacked completely against it. But whatever your stance, your level of cynicism, everyone wants to see how this plays out. Only the hardest of hearts would not crack a smile if this ridiculous plan actually comes off.