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What, me worry?
by Jason McIntyre / February 5, 2004

There was an extra hop in the coltish gait of Lamar Odom Wednesday, a determined look in his eyes less than 24 hours after once again getting snubbed by coaches from the All-Star game.

He wouldn't say it, but Odom, only 24-years-old and one of the most complete players in NBA, was eager to show just what he's capable of against the two-time Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets.

With an assortment of moves that made him unguardable, Odom was scintillating with 27 points, nine assists and five rebounds -- most of them coming against Nets All-Star forward Kenyon Martin -- but his Heat came out on the losing end of a 99-88 decision at Continental Airlines Arena.

Miami didn't lose because of anything Odom didn't do -- he had 17 points at halftime -- but because it lost its cool (four technicals, including one on Odom), played no defense, and have no size or talent inside. And rookie Dwyane Wade sat out with a left ankle sprain.

"Lamar looked like an All-Star tonight," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said afterward. "Lamar was carrying a huge load."

That seems to normally be the case -- first with the Clippers for four years, and now with the Heat. And his teams have not won. Apparently, that is crux as to why Odom wasn't selected this year, overtaken by the likes of New Orleans' Jamaal Magloire, Boston's Paul Pierce, and Indiana's Ron Artest. Odom's 16.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game (and 24 double-doubles) are better or at least equal to the aforementioned trio.

"I made the honorable mention team, I guess," Odom said before the Nets game. "I'm just proud to be mentioned with some of the best players in the NBA. Hopefully next year."

And then he went out and relentlessly attacked Martin on the offensive end, and the Nets mouthy power forward picked up two quick fouls. Next came Richard Jefferson -- he couldn't keep up. Rodney Rogers stepped right up and was abused repeatedly. The only saving grace for the Nets was Odom's penchant for silly fouls away from the basket, over the back, and while jockeying for position inside.

After Martin came back strong in the second half to finish with 24 points -- mostly on easy dunks -- Odom took a thinly veiled shot at who has the stronger offensive repertoire.

"The hardest thing to defend in this league is a player with an array of moves," he said when asked about whether or not it was difficult to stop Martin's dunk-a-thon. "The lob passes inside should be the easiest."

But as Heat guard Eddie Jones said in the locker room before the game, winning always trumps statistics.

"You're not supposed to be an All-Star if you're on a team that's not .500," Jones said. "[Odom's] numbers are there. And if you wipe away those first seven games of the year [0-7 Heat start], yeah, he deserves it. I remember Sam Cassell playing here for the Nets, and he had great numbers, but he never made [the All-Star game]. This year, he's on a winning team, and he made it. It's all about winning."

To an extent, Van Gundy agreed.

"He's certainly done as many different things as anybody in the East," he said of Odom, who is listed at power forward, but also plays small forward and point guard. "This isn't a guy who gets to go out and just do one thing every night. He's asked to play a lot of the point guard-type role. He's got to get down on the block [because] he's our primary low-post scorer. And he's one of the top 10 rebounders in the league. It's disappointing [he didn't make it], but it's tough to make the team."

The one item few would address is whether or not there is a possible stigma against Odom for his checkered past.

Odom did, after all, publicly expressed negativity toward the Clipper organization this summer -- hardly a first, but still a no-no in the professional ranks -- just so he could get out of La-la land. He has twice been suspended by the league (in an eight-month span) for violating the league's anti-drug policy.

The NBA has been monitoring his talents since Odom led Christ the King to the legendary New York City Catholic League championship as a 15-year-old sophomore, scoring 36 points. It broke the sophomore scoring record set by Lew Alcindor (that's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). After that, it was all downhill for Odom off the court, as he attended three high schools, was named the Parade Magazine Player of the Year in 1997, and got into UNLV -- only to have that yanked when he was accused of cheating on entrance exams. UNLV was slapped with four years' probation for its involvement in the Odom cheating scandal. Adding insult to injury, during that short summer stay at UNLV in 1997, Odom was cited for soliciting a prostitute on the Las Vegas Strip.

The following year, he surprised most of America when he ended up at the University of Rhode Island -- after his last high school coach, Jerry DeGregorio, was hired as an assistant coach there under Jim Harrick. Odom, for all his troubles, lasted just one season at Rhode Island -- guiding them to the Atlantic 10 tournament championship, the school's only one -- before getting selected with the fourth overall selection by the Clippers in 1999.

So yeah, he's got some baggage.

"You never know," Van Gundy said about the possible stigma surrounding Odom.

Jason McIntyre is a a freelance journalist in New York City and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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