NBA

Maybe we should just lay off Odom

Dallas Mavericks Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom finishes with nine points, five rebounds and three blocks Saturday.
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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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DALLAS, Texas

As a sign of just how dysfunctional this Lamar Odom saga has become for the Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki scored 40 points in Saturday’s 102-96 victory against Utah and was an afterthought.

Actually, afterthought is too strong. Nobody thought of him at all. He dressed quietly and exited without a single question about his absolute basketball brilliance.

“Way to go, L.O.,” Dirk said, with a smile as he exited unmolested.

Media laughed, then turned and fired another round of “WTF?” at Odom about his 10-day absence, his seeming lack of effort when he was playing and a growing skepticism about whether Odom is just using his dad’s illness as an excuse to check out on a Mavs team many believed he wanted no part of anyway. A case for that certainly exists, with LA being an easier go for Khloe Kardashian, for his reality show and for the friendly confines of Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.

If life came with stat sheets, it would be so much easier. You could see that guy was being a jerk at that work meeting because his wife left him, or the girl who screwed up your order had not slept last night because her kid was sick, or the distracted driver just got a cancer diagnosis.

Or, in the case of Odom, whether what is going on with his dad explains why his basketball game has been so pathetically uninspired so far this season.

“I mean you can ask anybody, any mechanic who might be going through a divorce, right? Or a lawyer who might have lost a loved one,” Odom said. “We all go through it. It is a part of life. You can either understand or judge. You pick.”

My inclination? Back off Odom, give him the benefit of doubt and trust that when he says “I’ve had some things that bothered me. I was easily distracted so it was easy for me to lose my focus” he is being sincere.

I cannot tell you what is going on with him or his dad. Even if I knew with 100-percent certainty, I would not write or even intimate what his personal situation might be. Being famous does not mean you give up every ounce of privacy and certainly does not mean your family signs up for that invasion.

Of course, we want to know. This is society nowadays.

So we ask for personal details we’d never think of divulging about ourselves. We do so under the guise of the fans’s right to know or because Odom opens himself up to this with his reality show or because it is our jobs.

“It was really personal,” Odom said. “It was something I had to tend to. … Sometimes we have to fix whatever is going on.”

Is it fixed?

“It’s OK,” Odom said.

I do not know why, but this felt like a telling choice of words to me. Like even Saturday, as everybody was trying to wrap a nice, neat bow on this and write an ending, he was still going through whatever it is.

As I thought about Odom’s question, if my choice is to understand or judge, I have to understand. This is my gut instinct based on listening to Odom, listening to Mavs peeps and mostly by listening to his teammates and his second-half performance Saturday.

Mavericks guard Jason Terry wanted no part of questions about Odom during pregame and sounded annoyed. Terry is a guy who is all team and who played through some wretched family tragedy (aunt passed away) leading into the playoffs a year ago with barely a word. So his tolerance for B.S. is small.

Maybe this is why he understands Odom. He has been there.

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And Terry’s tone had changed by postgame and not simply because Saturday was the most effort Odom had played with all year, or his 9 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots off the bench.

“He told us before the game he needed us, his teammates, right now, as much as we needed him. That almost put me to tears,” Terry told me after the game. “The thing is, unless you walk in his shoes, it is better not to judge. My choice is to be there for him.”

Following his teammates’ lead on this feels like the right play. Listen, the Mavs were right to be upset about how the Odom thing has gone down so far. They were all in there fighting to try to defend their championship and this guy looked marginally committed. His energy fluctuated. His impact was minimal. They had no sweat equity with him, just a memory of what he had been like in LA and a daily reminder they were not getting that guy.

Of course, they were mad. I’d be mad. They had to be wondering what everybody else was — about the actual extent of Odom’s personal problems, especially in the wake of TMZ or whomever’s report that said his dad was fine.

The frustration was so obvious after Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle went very hard-line and very public on Odom on his radio show Friday, more forthcoming than he usually is with in-house criticism.

“You think?” Carlisle asked when asked if it was calculated.

Yes. And it was.

“Do you think I’m that smart?” he said.

Yes. And I do.

15 MINUTES OF FAME

Sports is the ultimate "unscripted TV." No wonder so many athletes, such as Jose Canseco), have appeared on reality shows.

“Look it’s been a struggle, but at some point you got to lay the truth out there and it’s got to be clear to everybody what the expectations are,” he said.

And what about the fine line of being a human being sympathetic to the lives of his players and being coach of the Mavericks and what he and his team needs

“There is a fine line between compassion and gross insensitivity and a lot of people have taken the road of the insensitivity part of this and I have not,” Carlisle said. “When I spoke yesterday, it was about the period leading up to when he left. That’s basketball and that is my department.”

And no matter what is going on, there is no excuse for mailing in half of an NBA season. Going forward, Odom needs to be there for them.

Every night like Saturday.

Every night hard.

Every night no matter what else is happening.

“Whatever he has gone through has been tough,” Carlisle said “But now he is back and we need him.”

He needs them, too.

And in a question of judge or understand, he deserves understanding.

Tagged: Mavericks, Jason Terry, Lamar Odom

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