HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — It took Lamar Odom deep into his 17th game with the Los Angeles Clippers and some 230 minutes of floor time to finally can his first free throw of the season.
It was a big one, too, an and-one earned on a drive to the bucket in the fourth quarter of Monday’s come-from-behind, 105-104, win at the previously unbeaten-at-home Utah Jazz.
First made free throw of the season? On December 3rd? For a player of Odom’s caliber, some might call it pathetic. In L.A., they call it progress.
The strange life and times of the ever-cryptic Odom continue, only now the Clippers hope they’re seeing signs that the once-versatile forward who once thrived with that other L.A. outfit is coming around.
“He was active,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s starting to get his timing back. It’s going to take some time, but he’s a weapon out there for us and he’s only going to get better with time.”
That’s what the Dallas Mavericks kept thinking, too — that Odom would eventually snap out of his malaise. Yet as they patiently waited for a mostly lethargic and despondent Odom to respond to second, third and fourth chances, Mavs owner Mark Cuban finally reached his limit last April, demanded to know from Odom if he was “all in,” and soon after kicked him off the team.
The Clippers did Cuban a big favor by engaging the Jazz in trade talks just before the June 30 deadline, at which point the Mavs would have had to waive Odom to get rid of him and eat the $2.4 million guaranteed on his $8.2 million salary for this season.
Looking to ease a backcourt logjam, the Clippers sent Mo Williams (and his $8.5 million contract) to the 3-point-shooting-starved Jazz in exchange for a trade exception. The Clippers took in Odom at his full salary, believing a return to L.A. would psychologically land him in a comfort zone and physically invigorate him.
Through one month, the Clips weren’t getting much of a return. Odom has often appeared exhausted after short stints and incapable of aiding any unit Del Negro might include him.
Check out his averages and percentages: 2.2 points, 29.8 percent shooting, 12.5 percent from 3-point range (2-for-16), 33.3 percent from the free throw line (1-for-3), 3.3 rebounds and 13.8 minutes — less court time than only Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf (both of whom combine to make a quarter of Odom’s salary).
And then came Monday night and Odom’s fourth-quarter explosion — five consecutive points, four rebounds and a steal in 6:35. He finished with a season-high seven points and six rebounds, four coming on the offensive glass, where hustle and hard work typically win out.
He tied his season-high of three field goals, also accomplished in the previous game when he scored six points. Get this: Odom’s 13 points in the last two games equals his output over the previous 11 games.
“Slowly but surely, it’s coming,” Odom said after the game. “I’ve just got to keep taking my time. I’m getting better in practice. All I can do is keep plugging away game by game.”
The Mavs heard the same mantra from Odom for four months, and a time or two even believed he was turning a corner. The Clippers are thinking the same way the Mavs did: a 6-foot-10 forward with a ball-handling skills and 3-point range who can score inside would be a rare and valuable bench commodity.
Cuban and the Mavs are next to get an up-close look at Odom when they visit the Clippers on Wednesday night on ESPN.
So, just as we did at the conclusion of each episode of the now-postponed “Khloe & Lamar,” we breathlessly what to see what will happen next.