The Other Most Important Player in the Finals

By: 06.04.09
Lamar Odom (photo. Tim Tadder)

Lamar Odom (photo. Tim Tadder)

With so much talk about how the ’09 Finals will define Kobe Bryant‘s legacy, no one is talking about what this means for Phil Jackson. Just as a Lakers win allows Kobe to step out of Shaq‘s shadow and prove he can win without The Big Tweeter, it also gives Phil 10 championships as a head coach, pushing him ahead of Red Auerbach for the most all-time.

But for both Phil and Kobe, the one player who will play the biggest role in helping them get those all-important rings is the one player they’re both terrified to trust: Lamar Odom.

Think back to the ’08-09 preseason. Would Phil have publicly treated L.O. like some high school JV kid back then if he’d known Lamar would hold the key to his legacy? Or did Phil act like an ass toward L.O. because he knew Lamar would be the pendulum on which L.A.’s championship hopes swung?

In last year’s Finals loss to the Celtics, the two biggest culprits on the Lakers’ side were Odom and Pau Gasol. Both of them were inconsistent at best, getting intimidated and outplayed by KG and Leon Powe, and Odom was downright awful for significant stretches. And while Gasol showed some kind of spark indicating he wasn’t going to let that happen again — spending more time in the weight room in the offseason and playing with a chip on his shoulder in the Olympics — Odom still seemed more concerned with his ’09 free agent status by the time training camp rolled around, hence the player-coach feud going into the regular season.

Since then, Odom hasn’t been a distraction, and while he hasn’t erased the bad memories of the ’08 Finals, he has stepped it up this postseason. He’s putting up 12 points and 9.5 boards per game in these playoffs, coming up especially big since Andrew Bynum has been a playoff bust. And L.O. has played his best games in the Lakers’ biggest wins: 19 points, 14 boards and four blocks in Game 4 against Denver; 16 points and 13 boards in Game 3 against Houston; and 26 points, 15 boards and three blocks in the Game 5 clincher against Utah. In each of those games, Odom showed that all-around Derrick Coleman game that had scouts enamored with him in high school, handling the ball, hitting threes, playing inspired D and owning the glass.

Other than the domination of Dwight Howard, Orlando’s conference finals win hinged on the fact that Rashard Lewis was too rangy and versatile for Cleveland’s power forwards. So while defensive stopper Trevor Ariza will most likely guard Hedo Turkoglu in this series, Odom will be the guy assigned to stick Lewis. If he wins that matchup, L.A. wins the series.

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