Prodigal Odom returns to LA

LOS ANGELES — At the Los Angeles Clippers’ practice facility Monday, reporters gathered, cameras filmed and tape recorders ran — all in anticipation of the star’s arrival back in Los Angeles.

After all, the star spent most of the past basketball season bottled up in a Dallas hotel room when not filming the “Khloe and Lamar” reality show. There were even rumors that TMZ was sending out film crews to record every moment of the homecoming. So, imagine the disappointment when the star didn’t even show up for the news conference.

Yes, Khloe Kardashian-Odom was a no-show at her welcome home party.

Good thing hubby Lamar was there to talk about the small matter of returning to the Clippers and trying to help them win an NBA title.

Now, everything you just read sounds a bit absurd. But is it? The reality may be that the biggest news surrounding the Clippers this year will be whether or not Khloe gets pregnant, not what Lamar does on the court.

If you think I’m making this up, tell the fans gathered on the sidewalk outside the Clippers’ offices, or the ones across the street at the DoubleTree Hotel. Nearly every one of them that I passed asked me if I was going to the news conference — and was Khloe going to be there? Not one of nearly a dozen people asked anything about the man of the hour.

Lamar and the Clippers had better hope that changes in the next few months — along with his attitude toward playing the game of pro basketball. If not, take a look at the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011-12 season and call it a day. That’s what the Clippers could become, the only difference being 16 more games on the schedule.

Following his trade from the Lakers to Dallas in early December, Odom had a disastrous season in Dallas, averaging career lows in nearly every single category, including 6.6 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game and a shooting percentage of .352. Just a season earlier he had been voted the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

Odom, who began his career as a 19-year-old when the Clippers drafted him No. 4 overall in 1999, says he’s put the last season out of his mind.

“I went through a lot, on and off the court,” said the 32-year-old New York native. Sometimes we go through things that end up holding us back. That won’t happen again. Sometimes you play good, sometimes you play bad. I guess I got my spurt of playing bad is over with. I had to find myself as a man. I had to overcome a lot just to get on the court.”

Odom admitted that the murder of a cousin and riding in a vehicle that was involved in an accident that killed a minor weighed heavily on his mind. He also wanted to clarify his position about starring in his own reality show.

“A lot of people have questioned my focus on basketball,” he said. I didn’t know I was going to have a hit TV show. I didn’t plan it. But my focus on basketball was there.” He chuckled while saying it, almost like he didn’t believe it himself, but went on to promise a new and improved Lamar Odom in 2012-13.

“I’ve put that time behind me,” said Odom, who played a season in Miami between his stints with the Clippers (4 seasons) and the Lakers (7 seasons). “It’s time to move forward, time to be fresh again and get back to that aggressive style of basketball I was playing when I did win Sixth Man of the Year.”

Head coach Vinny Del Negro is hoping for that complete turnaround. His job may depend on it.

“There were a lot of questions, obviously,” said Del Negro, who like Odom is heading into the final year of his contract. “But in getting to know Lamar and talking about a lot of things, I felt that he was committed and wanted to be back in a Clippers’ uniform. The past is in the past. He plays the game the right way. He’s an unselfish player and we’re going to do all we can to put him in an environment where he can succeed.

“He’s going to be a big part of our team.”

So, the prodigal son returns home — albeit to a different family, He says he’s once again 100 percent committed to basketball and the Clippers, only moments after saying he had didn’t have the spirit to be the old Lamar last season.

So, which Odom will the Clippers be getting? The immature Lamar who wore out his welcome his first time around with the Clippers? Or will the tremendous team player who helped the Lakers to a pair of world championships show up? How about the fragile Odom who couldn’t deal with the idea of being traded by the Lakers, then forced them to send him to Dallas after the Lakers actually were prepared to bring him back? Maybe it’s the tabloid darling Lamar Odom who went to Texas and played nothing like the valuable commodity he’d become; then became such a disruption that the Mavericks suspended him for the last month of the season.

Like Del Negro said, questions abound.

Clipper Nation is anxiously awaiting the answers.