Cart me to shivah
Yesterday, DLIC had initially called Odom a “busted Swiss Army knife,” which I for some reason thought rendered this post useless. Then he changed it to “your do-it-all, do-nothing guy,” which, all sunrise aside, silently opened up the wound that is the following:
It is with great trepidation that I back into this one, which takes us (with a loving sigh) back into the mangled plains of Kobe’s MVP case. The one-time Troubled Smiler has been putting on a show of historic proportions, catching forty in his sleep and, no surprisingly, rocketing back up to the top of the Association’s most admired zealots. I want to claim that he’s threatening to revolutionize what it means to be an MVP, since he’s going to single-handedly urge the Lakers into the post-season without needing, wanting, or being offered any meaningful assistance. But Iverson did walk away with it that one season, and until last year AI was the poster child for unconscionable gunning. In either case, in an epoch marked by an unquestioned marriage of New Jack and the Right Way (shaming both in the process), what Kobe’s doing hardly makes the league feel good about itself. If he ends up with lopsided numbers and the Lakers end up a low seed in the lesser of two conferences, no way that award is a feel-good story.
The thing that would distinguish Kobe’s season above AI’s 2000-2001—and make it a case study in justifiable, nearly heroic, one-man-bandsmanship—is that he’s working with nothing. Iverson had a supporting cast made of fun, teammates that one could argue he should’ve passed to who were at least able to take care of business in his fiery wake. Kobe, as Burns pointed out the other day, has got a frontcourt of Kwame Brown and Mihm, pure cast-offs who hover somewhere between bust and journeyman. The smart argument for Bryant: it may not always be emotionally satisfying or ethically withstandable what #8 is doing, but you try and think of a better way to make that team playoff-bound. And not like any of you need this pointed out, but as sheer technicality its force in inescapable: he’s got arguably the greatest coach in the Association’s marshy history signing off on the program.
(I’m thinking more and more that the MVP might end up with Billups both as a nod to team excellence and as a way of avoiding both the unsightly “win hog” and the ugly idea that Nash has history on his side. You wonder, though, if that wouldn’t instantly get enshrined as precedent, and lead to it once and for all skewing toward the unsinkably fake “best player on best team” criteria.)
Which brings us to the strange case of Mar Mar, chronic FreeDarko favorite and thorn in the side of Kobe’s reputation. One of the most insistently compelling men to ever take the court, his game truly needs no introduction within these halls of entitlement. Suffice to say that, when P-Jax hinted that Odom would play Pippen to Bryant’s MJ, not a one among us felt the world stretch or sag. Given his arsenal of talent and Jackson’s creation of Pippen as we know him, there was no reason to think that, even more so than during his one season with Riles, Odom’s calling was finally upon him.
Sadly, Jackson’s shroud over town has brought Odom even less luck than Rudy’s Run. The conventional wisdom goes something like this: inveterate shot-jacker Kobe disrupts the delicate to-and-fro flow of the triangle, freezing out the New Odom who so fervently belongs in it, and reducing him to a role player without a clear cut part to play. Anyone looking to tarnish Kobe’s accomplishments need look no further than Lamar’s gruesomely inconsistent stat lines, which show the man he could be while at the same time revealing the shackles of a lifetime. Odom, these wise-mongers say, proved in Miami that he could put it all together, and these Kobe-induced trials represent nothing less than the stunting of perfect’s gates.
Now hold your calm as I write to you the unfortunate: it’s all wrong, and Odom is Odom’s fault. The man can do anything, but his do-anything-ness is largely reactive and almost entirely on his own terms. His time with the Heat was a whopping success exactly because he was locked into a fairly specific role and asked to occasionally shock the world. As in, play power forward, but with some range, the ability to create your own shot, and the option of us running the offense through you without a loss of flow. Be a mismatch, a problem, a cipher of the scheme, but let the other team be burdened with that. This stands in sharp contrast to his Clippers days, when Odom was most notably spotted hoarding the ball at the top of the key and either plotting a drive or deciding to launch a three. Here, we saw the essence of Odom: a jumble of conflicting skills fighting with itself from moment to moment, resolving itself only long enough to beat whatever’s in front of it.
What Phil, at least in theory, is asking Odom to do is to decide in advance who he is. Garnett can do it all but has some central notion of being; Diaw, as I’ve said before, might be what Lamar would be if he could pre-plan for his five-cat immensity. He is a phantom that lives only for the spirit of that possession, a man known only by his play-by-play identity. Alas, with Odom it seems to be slightly fissured tradition or hex, as his ability to take advantage of his frightening variety is directly proportional to the amount of chaos it causes the team. He only realizes his excellence when it stretches out before him in an uncanny plateau of indecision, and thus robs himself of whatever Pippen-esque usefulness he might have in the triangle’s system. It pains me to say it, but I have to agree with Dan Patrick that Odom is going to be one of those “what could have been’s”—not clipped by circumstance or poor judgment, he just plain got put together the wrong way.