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Why NBA Stars Want Odom on Their Team

Lamar Odom is like an onion, or a box of chocolates. Some fans look at him and see a versatile, inconsistent big man who doesn't always step up when he has to, but is capable of breathtaking things. When Odom offers to take a pay cut, or come off the bench, they're not entirely shocked by this choice. Odom is Tim Thomas out on good behavior. ↵
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↵But for those a little more in the know, Odom is both enigma and secret weapon. He can pass and handle like a point guard, sink 3s, rebound like mad, and even approximate Shawn Marion on defense. About his only weakness, other than a decided lack of focus, or antennae that register the same frequencies we do, is his gross incompetence on any finish that doesn't involve a dunk. ↵
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↵And there are still others, drunk on Kool-Aid, or steeped in history, who see Odom not as a missed opportunity or dormant potential, but a player who still represents the missing link between Kevin Garnett and LeBron James. Hyperbole, to be sure, but it isn't for nothing that you still hear perfectly reputable announcers compare Lamar to Magic Johnson, and suggest that at the end of the day, watching him come through every few games is itself a great blessing unto the league. Neither cult figure, "what if," or underachiever, he's just ... Lamar Odom. ↵
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↵If you want a clue as to where some of the game's best players stand, look no further than the recent public statements by Kobe Bryant, who just won a championship with Odom in tow, and Dwyane Wade, whose attachment to the 2003-04 Heat team with Odom and Caron Butler seems stronger than that mission accomplished 2005-06 Shaq ring.
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↵First, Kobe, from the AP: ↵
↵⇥"I'm optimistic that he'll be back," Bryant said Wednesday at a news conference in Singapore as part of a six-country Asian tour. "He makes us a much, much stronger team." ↵
↵I know that Kobe's on tour and all, and the "much, much" does say a lot when the team just landed Ron Artest, still has Pau Gasol, and expects Andrew Bynum to eventually turn into his greater self. However, this low-key plea has nothing on Wade's Odom outreach plan. From The Sun-Sentinel: ↵
↵⇥While Wade praised [potential Heat target Carlos] Boozer, saying "he's what you want" in a power forward, he reiterated that "Lamar right now is our big focus. We want to make sure we get Lamar and then go from there." ↵⇥
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↵⇥Wade's sales pitch to Odom? "Come home! Come back!" ↵
↵So after all the writing we've spent on Boozer-to-Miami, with Odom only recently surfacing as a wild card, now the team's star -- whose mini-max requires he be kept happy -- is saying Odom's the prize. What's more, he says a lot more about really knowing and understanding Lamar, the touchy-feely kind of stuff that seems to be the best motivator for Odom. ↵
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↵It's hard to even broach the subject of which team needs Odom more because Odom himself is such a perplexing figure. Which Odom are Kobe and Wade talking about, respectively? Given the Lakers' depth, you know Bryant's thinking of Odom the legend, who might be content to come off the bench in mild-mannered fashion, but will without warning take over a game. Because realistically, a core of Kobe, Artest, and Pau should just need some strong role players. In Odom, though, Kobe still sees an invaluable, if blurry, legend. ↵
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↵Wade, who played with Odom for LO's most fully-realized season, knows that the man is neither as great as some think he should/could be, nor a total space cadet. Nor a combination of the two. The article quoted above also has Wade detailing, rather significantly, just how well he knows Odom and his decision-making process. It's clear that while Boozer is an ideal basketball fit, Wade would be excited about reuniting with Odom, and -- ironically -- would have as much emotion invested in that partnership as Artest seemed to when he agreed to join LA and, presumably, his old pal Odom. ↵
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↵The answer is, neither team really needs Lamar Odom. But when Kobe and Wade want him this badly, pure basketball becomes irrelevant. The unfolding situation ends up telling us nearly as much about these two superstars, their styles, and values, as it does Odom. Bryant understands how heady a presence Odom can be on the floor; Wade wants his good pal back and in the spotlight. Kobe could contend without Odom; it's unlikely that LO alone will make the Heat into a championship-caliber team. However, it tells you a lot about what both superstars want from a team, and teammates, that they're pushing for Odom in their respective manners. ↵
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↵And so, while Odom still leaves us wondering about who he really is, and what sways his thinking, here he serves as a cipher for two of the NBA's biggest names. Odom may be one big question mark, but when it comes to others, he can provide a bevy of answers. You might say that this soft power feud between Kobe and Wade is two big names making their cases in public. Who knows, in a few days, the press may drum this up into some kind of marquee squabble, or at least competition. ↵
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↵For now, though, let's just sit back and watch them bare their competitive and professional souls, all in the name of wooing a player who, for those not in the know, is a flakey sixth man with no clear place on the floor.
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↵For more NBA coverage, visit SportingNews.com's new NBA blog, The Baseline.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.