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Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â STEP-UP TIME: Despite suffering a back injury in the Western Conference Semifinals, all eyes will be on Lamar Odom during the NBA Final staring tonight.Lakers title hopes hinge on the ailing back of Lamar Odom
As LeBron James contemplates his next big move, Dwight Howard his next endorsement deal and Kobe Bryant vies for his first championship without Shaq, Lamar Odom relishes in the shadows of the NBA elite superstars.
The gifted 6'10 five tool enigma who for a decade has teased and disgruntled NBA coaches and fans with his skyrocketing potential now finds himself back in the NBA Finals with the Lakers.
The spotlight of this series will clearly be on the chest of Bryant and Howard who has his coming out party at the expense of the James led Cleveland Cavaliers.
His 40 point outburst and his confrontation with head coach San Van Gundy was Howard's coronation into the land of superstardom.
Bryant, meanwhile has reinvented his image on Madison Avenue, and has become the face of the Lakers franchise replacing the likes of Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal who he shared top billing with.
Ironically when the Lakers decided to part ways with arguably the most dominant big man in the history of the league in O'Neal, Odom was part of the package deal in 2004 and now the last remaining link to the trade.
And he could potentially be in his final season with the Lakers if they don't decide to resign him in the summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Odom spent the beginning of his career with the Clippers where he was chosen No. 4 in 1999 out of Rhode Island.
He never averaged less than 13 points per game with the Clippers, but seldom measured up to the star potential that many figured he would exhibit.
So, as usual with the Clippers when his contract was up, instead of paying him they traded their lottery pick to Pat Riley and the Miami Heat in 2002 where again Odom was solid, but not spectacular averaging a near career best 17.1 points per game.
The difference this time was that Odom was receiving tsar compensation and the final year of his lucrative contact pays him $14, 559 for 2008-'09, 24th highest salary in the league and more than Dwayne Wade makes.
I remember Odom when he was a star for the Long Island Panthers, a New York based AAU club team while he was in high school.
My first thoughts were this is the next coming of Magic Johnson, a tall skilled ball handler with off the charts appeal.
Anyone who saw him must have also envisioned that he would improve and thus become a mega star in the NBA right in the same category of LeBron, Kobe and Dwight.
However, as the NBA Finals tips on Thursday June. 4 at Staples Center, Odom will be consider just a supporting cast member with all of the marbles on the line and the high stakes of his next contract in the league.
That upside potential is out the window now, Odom is what his numbers say he is an NBA career teenager who has averaged double figures for every year he's been in the league.
Critics say he's a nice piece to have, but not a cornerstone from which you can depend.
He's the third leading scorer on the Lakers during the postseason, but young Trevor Ariza has emerged as the difference maker.
In the meanwhile Odom, playing with an ailing back that he hurt during the semifinals, out it all together for game five of the conference finals and now emerges as the one player which the title hopes will hang on.
"When he (Odom) is on top of his game the Lakers are unbeatable and the best team in basketball," said one analyst.
Odom is a match-up nightmare for any potential opponent because of his length and if he's shooting the three with any degree of accuracy then he's a scary player to deal with.
He will rebound on both ends of the court, is an able defender, good passer and as Phil Jackson likes to call him an excellent facilitator.
The only question to be answered now, is can he be the difference for the Lakers in their quest to the NBA championship?