Lamar Odom is getting in the right frame of mind, but his physical conditioning… (Kin Cheung / Associated…)
Lamar Odom leaned forward at lunch, his eyes bright, a smile on his face, as he explained his thoughts about the inner peace he has found.
Odom said it took some "spiritual and psychological counseling" to find the necessary resolve to gather himself. And he has embraced the process since becoming a Clipper again in June.
"My focus is a lot stronger," Odom said. "I had to take care of myself mentally before anything else.
"Because of life's burdens or anything that … didn't go my way or that hurt me, it started to weigh. A lot of people think we let it go with the game. But sometimes the game and the business of the game is going to hurt you."
The pain Odom felt after being traded by the Lakers last season to the Dallas Mavericks manifested itself in his poor play.
"That wasn't me" in Dallas, Odom said.
That lost season led to Odom's producing career lows in points (6.6), rebounds (4.2), assists (1.7), minutes (20.5) and shooting percentage (35.2%). Fed up with his play and attitude, the Mavericks sent Odom home in April.
When the Clippers acquired Odom from Dallas for Mo Williams (who was traded to Utah), Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro asked Odom a pointed question.
"When I first met Vinny, he was like, "Which Lamar am I going to get?' " Odom said. "But how many good seasons have I had to bad seasons?"
Odom smiled at his own question.
The first 12 of his 13 years in the NBA were solid. Even after that season in Dallas, Odom still has career averages of 14.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
"And that's why being in the right frame of mind is so important," Odom said. "But I'm a sports fan, so I understood why Vinny asked me that. I told him, 'Coach, I have strung together a couple of good years of basketball.' I'm not going to make no excuses and say, 'I had a bad season.' But I can tell you the truth about what happened in my life and you can judge from there."
Mentally, Odom is fit.
Physically, however, Odom didn't come to Clippers camp in the right shape.
His condition and weight have forced him to miss some exhibitions because of a bone bruise in his left knee.
"It'll come from playing," Odom said about improving his conditioning. "I haven't played since April. I'll be on the court on the 31st."
He's referring to Oct. 31, when the Clippers open the season against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center.
Odom also said he needed a long time to recover from the summer of 2011.
Odom attended a funeral in New York that July to bury his 24-year-old cousin, who Odom said was murdered. The next day, Odom was a passenger in a sport utility vehicle in Queens when it collided with a motorcycle. The motorcycle went out of control and hit a 15-year-old pedestrian.
Odom called his wife, reality-TV star Khloe Kardashian, and told her that the pedestrian was going to die.
The boy died from head injuries the following day.
Those tragedies weighed heavily on Odom, putting him in a dark place.
His mother, Cathy Mercer, died of colon cancer when he was 12. His grandmother Mildred Mercer, who reared him, died in 2004. His son Jayden, not quite 7 months old, died of sudden infant death syndrome in his crib in 2006.
"After those two deaths last summer, that's probably when everything that I had been through ever in my life that was taken from me, it surfaced," Odom said. "It all came out. Just the pain."
Odom said he got "a lot of counseling."
And, he says, returning to the Clippers, the team that drafted him 1999, has helped.
He's excited about basketball, again. He feels the way he did when the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, when he helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey and when he won the NBA's sixth man of the year award in 2011.
"I've kind of gained that back by coming here to the Clippers," Odom said. "I'm a competitor. The thing I want to prove the most is that I want to let my family know that I'm better and in a good place.
"What I'm going to do is wear my heart on my sleeve again. I'll make this team that gave me the opportunity to play for them proud."