Odom's Back, Mavs Win, You Pick
Lamar Odom had taken an impossibly long time away from the Dallas Mavericks to deal with personal matters. After contributing to a 102-96 win over the visiting Jazz on Saturday, he took an impossibly long time in his locker stall, his tattooed back to the gathered media swarm, meticulously arranging his jewelry and lathering his bald head with lotion. And after all the waiting was through and maybe all the circus is ceased, the enigmatic basketball celebrity exited the locker room and behind closed doors, where almost no one could see, he engaged Mavs special assistant Tim Grugrich in an impossibly long hug.
"I know I wanted to play,'' said Odom, ending an odd and frustrating 10-day absence from the team with his most energetic effort of the season (nine points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots in 18 minutes). "IThere are certain things you need to take care of so you move on. … Some things beat us down. Sometimes we need to step away from everything to overcome.''
Odom was made to feel welcome when he first came onto the AAC floor ...
And he was made to feel welcome by Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who spent two days this week talking with Odom and his agent, Jeff Schwartz. Odom says asking for a buyout of his contract or harboring some level of dissatisfaction with being a member of the defending champs were never issues.
"It was really personal, something I had to tend to,'' said Odom. ''Mark Cuban is a great owner for understanding and knowing that sometimes we have to fix what's going on off the court in order for us to fix what's on the court.''
While Odom finished dressing, he sat upon a stack of papers that were in his chair. What were those crumpled papers? The documents necessary for the veteran to report to the Mavs' D-League team, the Texas Legends, and the documents that rescinded that assignment when Dallas decided that it was more likely to end its four-game losing streak with a properly motivated Odom performing for the big club.
And that proper preparation was guided by Grgurich, the legendary – and legendarily private – NBA assistant coach.
Grgurich is employed by Cuban as a Mavs "special assistant.'' He has the freedom to work at his own pace and in his own way. The Mavs asked him to take on this unusual project – to not only get Odom game-ready in body but quite likely in spirit, too – and the results are obvious.
"It's by far the most energy (Odom's) played with the entire year," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who the day before Odom's comeback had challenged the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year to play with his "pants on fire. "And I don't think it's close. I would defy anybody to go against that statement ... If he can bring that kind of energy and engagement, it's going to lift our team to a different level."
The Mavs (22-16) also received a lift from a source with a more consistent approach to team contributions, last year's NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki. It speaks to the queer nature of the presence of Odom that Nowitzki's season-high 40 points is but a sidebar to the day's events.
Amid some very real questions about traits like "trust'' and "loyalty,'' Dirk and other Mavs leaders expressed acceptance of Odom. We looked and found signs of acceptance, or at least normalcy, after the game, during the game, before the game ...
"We're happy to see him back because we're a different team when he's playing,'' said Dirk Nowitzki, who hollered, "Way to go, LO!'' during Lamar's presser. "He was great tonight and he handles the whole situation very well. All we ask him to do is to play hard on both ends of the floor. We want him to have fun out there with the guys and like I said he was great tonight and we're happy to see him back.''
Added Jason Terry, who scored 22: "Tonight he addressed the team before we went out. That address was, ‘Guys I need you as much as you need me.' We all looked at him and gave him a big hug. He said, "Sorry,'' and said, "Let's go.'' Then his play tonight spoke louder than those words."
Odom serving as Nowitzki's backup helps provide Dallas with a wave of depth few teams can match – as long as Odom, dealt to the Mavs in December from the Lakers in a rush of controversy, actually shows up. Here, Nowitzki had 20 points at the half and 30 points when he went to the bench midway through the third and then in the fourth quarter, with Dallas up by 23, it looked like he and the first-teamers might be done for the night. But the Jazz actually outscored the Mavericks 41-28 in the fourth quarter and went on a 24-8 run to cut Dallas' lead to 93-88 with 1:41 left. Terry and Nowitzki were called upon to close it out as they combined for six points to put Dallas up by nine with 19 seconds remaining, at which time the Dallas bench engaged in more congratulatory gestures, many directed at their returning teammate Odom.
"Before the game, I let (teammates) know how much I need them,'' Odom said. "I'm fortunate to have a group of guys like this."
It seems the Mavs players are prepared to embrace Odom, as Grgurich did behind closed doors. The AAC crowd largely did the same thing, warming to the veteran as his wife and reality-TV-show co-star Khloe Kardashian clapped approvingly though the game.
And to any observers prepared to counter all of Lamar's impossibly long times with their own drawn-out skepticism-driven evaluations, Odom offered a philosophical answer:
"We all go through things, it's a part of life,'' Lamar said. "You can either understand or judge. You pick.''