NBA / Jun 4, 2009 / 1:00 pm

The Other Most Important Player in the Finals

Lamar Odom (photo. Tim Tadder)

Lamar Odom (photo. Tim Tadder)

With so much talk about how the ’09 Finals will define Kobe Bryant‘s legacy, no one is talking about what this means for Phil Jackson. Just as a Lakers win allows Kobe to step out of Shaq‘s shadow and prove he can win without The Big Tweeter, it also gives Phil 10 championships as a head coach, pushing him ahead of Red Auerbach for the most all-time.

But for both Phil and Kobe, the one player who will play the biggest role in helping them get those all-important rings is the one player they’re both terrified to trust: Lamar Odom.

Think back to the ’08-09 preseason. Would Phil have publicly treated L.O. like some high school JV kid back then if he’d known Lamar would hold the key to his legacy? Or did Phil act like an ass toward L.O. because he knew Lamar would be the pendulum on which L.A.’s championship hopes swung?

In last year’s Finals loss to the Celtics, the two biggest culprits on the Lakers’ side were Odom and Pau Gasol. Both of them were inconsistent at best, getting intimidated and outplayed by KG and Leon Powe, and Odom was downright awful for significant stretches. And while Gasol showed some kind of spark indicating he wasn’t going to let that happen again — spending more time in the weight room in the offseason and playing with a chip on his shoulder in the Olympics — Odom still seemed more concerned with his ’09 free agent status by the time training camp rolled around, hence the player-coach feud going into the regular season.

Since then, Odom hasn’t been a distraction, and while he hasn’t erased the bad memories of the ’08 Finals, he has stepped it up this postseason. He’s putting up 12 points and 9.5 boards per game in these playoffs, coming up especially big since Andrew Bynum has been a playoff bust. And L.O. has played his best games in the Lakers’ biggest wins: 19 points, 14 boards and four blocks in Game 4 against Denver; 16 points and 13 boards in Game 3 against Houston; and 26 points, 15 boards and three blocks in the Game 5 clincher against Utah. In each of those games, Odom showed that all-around Derrick Coleman game that had scouts enamored with him in high school, handling the ball, hitting threes, playing inspired D and owning the glass.

Other than the domination of Dwight Howard, Orlando’s conference finals win hinged on the fact that Rashard Lewis was too rangy and versatile for Cleveland’s power forwards. So while defensive stopper Trevor Ariza will most likely guard Hedo Turkoglu in this series, Odom will be the guy assigned to stick Lewis. If he wins that matchup, L.A. wins the series.

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  • BRUCE

    Go LO go. You get the the chocolate bars in the world if you win LO.

  • PALakerFan

    A big series by LO could make him a bundle this off-season. Think 5/$55 million or something silly.

    He’s got a shitload of talent, that’s for sure. How many guys coming off the bench actually have All-Star talent? Not too many.

  • karizmatic

    I think LO has been showing flashes that he won’t let what happened last year happen again. Right or wrong a lot of blame was heaped on Odom for the loss last year. All the “soft” labeling was really directed at him and Gasol, so I think Lamar will surprise people for some stretches of this series and will be that determining factor that pushes LA over the top.

  • hahns

    how many LO’s-untapped-potential stories have been written since hes gotten into the league.

    ppl dont realize that the guys JUST ISNT THAT GOOD!

    he never shows up – disappears in big moments – inconsistent. hes really just not that good. same case w/ sheed. the guy isnt one of the best players in the league despite what all the analysts say. he just isnt. he definitely had the potential to be a great player, but i dont think your team wins a chip if he was your number one guy

  • jay26th

    hasnt he had back problems this post season? sounds like an excuse waiting to happen

  • doc

    Lo gotta come back strong this finals or his manhood gonna be in question.He got to much dam talent to be bullshitting against Shard and Hedo.

  • Seven Duece

    Man LO is the only player I’ve ever wanted to see traded to a team with no talent so the world can see him get down. When he played with the Clips, he was doing things a 6-10 guy just isn’t supposed to do. Once he started playing PF for Miami, the world started casting him as a different type of player. In the history of the NBA, there haven’t been too many 6-10 dudes that can handle the rock, post up, shoot, pass, board, D and still be selfless with all that talent. As ridiculous as Derrick Coleman was, LO is smoother. If the Lakers had traded him for KG a couple years ago, he would be sh*tting on the league right now. He should go to the Knicks as a free agent and make people into believers again. FREE LAMAR ODOM!!!

  • Danny

    There havn’t been many 6’10 guys who can post up shoot pass, board, d?? We’re not talking about Odom right?? Just because your 6’10 doesn’t mean your a great player, and odom isn’t, period. If he was 5 inches shorter people would say that he has NO potential and would be a bench warmer. But he’s not, so he got lucky and people are enamored because he can do a LITTLE bit of everything, but nothing good.

    *He’s been horrible on every team he’s ever played on, including the lakers.

  • Seven Duece

    You’re playing yourself dude. He’s never been horrible, inconsistent maybe. But horrible? Get off that vendetta. Just how many guys in the league, regardless of size, can handle the rock, post up, shoot, pass, board, and D? For real, how many? If he was garbage, why didn’t LA trade him to Washington instead of Caron Butler? Tough Juice is nice, but he’s not seeing LO.