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KURT STREETER

Celebrate Lamar Odom's return to Lakers, but don't plan another parade just yet

The only thing L.A. is guaranteed by bringing back the forward is another season of maddeningly spectacular inconsistency.

July 31, 2009|KURT STREETER

Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice! The Lakers have signed Lamar Odom! The dangerous game of chicken is over. We can breathe easy again, we can begin celebrating back-to-back titles a year ahead of time! Start collecting the confetti for next June's parade to the Coliseum.

Uh, hold on a minute, not so fast . . .

Yes, of course, on the face of it, this is a wonderfully smart and savvy move by a team angling for a repeat. It certainly nudges the Lakers another step toward that goal, and Odom's chilled-out vibe will certainly be a tonic for a team that now must deal with daily doses of Ron Artest.

But some perspective is needed. Let's not forget who we're talking about. Signing Odom, as maddeningly inconsistent and frustrating as anyone in the NBA, ensures nothing more for Lakers fans than a continued roller coaster ride and another season of heartburn.

Next season, guaranteed, will come moments when you'll swear he's Elgin Baylor. There will also be times when you'll swear he's Elgin your aging third cousin who comes off the bench for his church league team. Despite their great talent, if we see too much of your cousin, the Lakers just might get upset in the first round of the playoffs.

Odom signs and it's now a lock that the Lakers will run the table next season? Be careful with that line of thinking. That's all I'm saying.

True, we found out during the most recent playoffs that a lively Odom can mean all the difference. We've long marveled at his physical skills. In crunch time, during the last two games of the Western Conference finals and in almost all of the NBA Finals, we witnessed No. 7 merge his fluid physicality with real, hard-edged aggression. For the most part, it was marvelous. It was also, in crunch time, a first.

The Finals went by quickly, four games to one, but a few bounces go the other way and it's all different. Against Orlando, Odom's contributions in his team's Game 2 overtime win -- 19 points (on eight-for-nine shooting), eight rebounds, three blocks, two assists, one steal and 46 minutes -- may well have kept the Finals from becoming a blood match. Bathed in the glow of another Larry O'Brien Trophy, those last impressions, the memories we choose to hold on to, are pure gold.

Ah, memories, how powerful. Already dealing with unease caused by swapping rock-solid Trevor Ariza for Artest, Lakers fans were worried sick these last few weeks, what with Odom and Jerry Buss engaged in an ego-fueled stare-down over a new deal. Suddenly, in the minds of many, Odom was a 10-time All-Star. In fact, despite having as much skill as anyone in basketball, he's never even been a one-time All-Star.

Now don't go getting me wrong. It's wonderful that he stays here. He isn't only a great talent; he's also a good guy and a calming force. Just don't believe for a moment that he's suddenly become a player who will deliver the goods night in and night out. Memories are powerful, and sometimes fickle.

We forget, after this last playoff run, the unexplainable pratfalls that have pockmarked Odom's career. One could sift through season after season of examples, but there's no need to go back that far. Remember that alongside those flashy playoff games last spring there were several with no luster at all. Remember Odom's two-point, 25-minute performance against Houston in Game 4, which kept that series a stalemate. Remember Denver and clunker Games 1, 3 and 4. Odom played a total of 93 minutes. He scored seven, eight and five points.

Remember how, smack in the throes of the playoffs, doctors were sending the Lakers unasked-for-advice theorizing that Odom's insatiable sugar cravings had created an NBA Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Remember how, not so long ago -- just the start of last season -- Odom was a whipping boy. When I wrote a piece last October titled "Don't be so hard on Lakers' Lamar Odom" my in-box overflowed with e-mails claiming I'd lost my marbles. Back then, in the minds of many who now say his signing ensures a dynasty, Odom was a lost cause: wonderful trade bait in a deal for Shawn Marion, a pack of pecans and an old goat.

Today, of course, we talk about how great Odom is and will be. Today we prattle on about how this signing ensures the spectacular chemistry of next season's Lakers and the wisdom Odom will bring his New York City running buddy, that wack job Mr. Artest.

Already there's talk of whether the city should pay for next year's parade.

Lamar is back! Rejoice! Rejoice!

Go ahead and do it. This is a smart and savvy move by the Lakers, true enough. But don't forget who we're talking about. With Odom, bless him, all that can be counted on for next year is more maddeningly spectacular inconsistency. It was good enough for one title. Whether it will be good enough for more isn't as sure a bet as many -- bedazzled by memories of a few great games -- seem to think.

--

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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