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T.J. SIMERS

Lamar Odom is back with the Clippers, but what does it all mean?

Lamar Odom, one of the most likable but enigmatic figures in L.A. sports history, returns to team with which he began his NBA career. It could be great, it could go bad, or it could be just plain weird.

June 30, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Lamar Odom, who will return to the team that originally drafted him, pulls off his warmups before a game with Dallas last season.
Lamar Odom, who will return to the team that originally drafted him, pulls… (LM Otero / Associated Press )

He's back and it's so cool, so weird, a TMZ headline reading: "Kris Jenner Did Not Negotiate Lamar Odom's Clipper Deal."

He's one of the most likable athletes Los Angeles has come to know: talented but frustrating; charismatic yet disappointing; competitive and oh so deferential if not soft.

His lifelong philosophy, he says, is to kill with kindness, and yet so often he seems to be wrapped in grief.

PHOTOS: Lamar Odom through the years

The hope is that things will always get better for Lamar, and here we go again. If he's on his game, and how often has that been repeated in this city, he just might be the missing championship piece.

But how can anyone be excited about this Los Angeles homecoming without knowing first why he fell so flat in Dallas?

Or, as I put it to him for old time's sake: "Did you just wimp out on everybody in Dallas?"

"No, no, no," he says. "I had some stuff going on that I don't think I was past."

His next words are ones to be considered carefully by Lakers fans.

If there's no trade to Dallas, he says, "I wouldn't have been surprised if I wasn't myself even if I was on the Lakers.

"There was a part of me that just wasn't there, that wasn't responding to things that were around me. I wasn't the same person. I wasn't the same husband. I wasn't being myself."

But he's also quick to say, "I would have tried as hard as I could for the Lakers." Keep that in mind when I ask about quitting on the Mavericks.

If it sounds sometimes as if he's delivering conflicting messages, welcome to Lamar's World as it turns.

He's emotional, here and there and seemingly always dealing with something. It hasn't been a year since last summer when Odom learned his cousin had been shot.

"I get to the hospital and I don't know what to expect," he says. "And we're very close, and then to see somebody like that, shot in the head and on a respirator fighting for his life. It affected me deeply."

It falls on him to tell his cousin's mother that it's time to take him off the respirator. The next day he's making funeral plans.

A car service takes him where needed but there's an accident, a motorcycle goes flying and a 15-year-old boy standing on the sidewalk is killed by it.

"It happens so fast," Lamar says, "but I see it."

Later in Dallas he will tell folks about the pictures in his head that just won't go away.

"When things happen like that you need your family, the place you call home," he says. "Then to find out you've been traded . . . it was something I wasn't prepared for, so it affected me maybe more than it would at any other time in life."

The trade for Chris Paul falls apart. He's still a Laker, but he's hurt and his advisor informs the team. In the Lakers' estimation he's a lost soul, so they deal him to Dallas.

"I can't even tell you what I felt like when I was traded to Dallas; I was numb," Odom says.

He was upset with the Lakers, he says, but no longer.

"No, no, no, no," he exclaims. "I love those guys."

He will not talk about Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and a halftime incident that ends his stay with the team.

"You just have to let things go in life," he says, adding with a laugh, "I know I would have much rather played well."

He's insistent. "I did not quit," he says when asked, but skeptics will remain on alert.

He was getting professional help in Dallas, "but what helps," he says, "is time. We all need time.

"I have someone I always talk to but it's a process. I'm feeling a little better; a lot better. I've grown and I've learned to express myself better. I was one of those guys that bottled everything up."

He considers himself tough-minded, so why such a competitive letdown in Dallas?

"I have asked myself that question," he says. "I wasn't responding like I would normally respond in pressure situations because of what I was going through mentally. Maybe it was even bothering me physically.

"I think sometimes we put athletes on this pedestal like they can't have anything in life bothering them. But a man can go through something in his life for a period of time that might just defeat him."

As happy as a candy-eating athlete can be, too often Odom finds himself tortured. He loses his mother to cancer when he's 12, his grandmother raises him, she passes and then his 6 1/2-month-old son, Jayden, dies of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2006, on the two-year anniversary of his grandmother's death.

"When I lost my son I got over it emotionally because I took it as a sign from my grandmother," Odom says. "It was like she was saying, 'Lamar, I got him now, don't worry about it.'"

Friday was the sixth anniversary of his son's death -- and the same day he receives news he's a Clipper again.

"All on the same day," he says with a "whew" attached. "I take it as another sign, a blessing really. It feels like somebody is watching over me and I'm filled with glee."

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