“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Francis Bret Harte tells the story of misfits forced into exile by the general populace. Despite their societal shortcomings, the group shows an inherent goodness and selflessness when brought together in the face of adversity.
The story sounds a bit like former Los Angeles Lakers Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Matt Barnes. No longer wanted by the Lakers, the triage has managed to find a niche serving their former team’s Staples Center cotenants, the Clippers.
For Odom, his addition to the Clippers connotes a career coming full circle. After being drafted by the Clippers in 1999, Odom traversed through the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, winning two championship rings along the way before returning to the Clippers.
However, his stint in Dallas would reach an elevation that would rival Death Valley’s—a career-low he would like to forget sooner rather than later. After a botched trade that would’ve relocated him from the Lakers to the New Orleans Hornets, Odom felt slighted and demanded a trade from Lakers’ brass.
Odom got his wish when a deal was struck with the Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately, he went from Sixth Man of the Year the previous season to odd man out in Dallas’ rotation after putting up mediocre numbers for a 6-foot-10 multifaceted forward-center—6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game—more than half his averages the previous year.
Furthermore, a spat with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban regarding his overall commitment to the team led to his inactive status for the remainder of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. It propagated a four-team trade that sent him back to the Clippers last summer.
Prior to the 2012-13 season, Odom showed up to Clippers training camp in less-than-stellar basketball shape. However, he slowly worked his way into the Clippers’ second unit.
“I just stayed with it,” Odom told the LA Times. “You don’t have no choice, but to get better when you practice every day against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and Jamal (Crawford). Everything that we do is intense.”
On February 23 against the Utah Jazz, Odom showed flashes of his former self with 18 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. His championship and playoff experience will be invaluable during the Clippers’ run in the postseason.
In Turiaf’s case, he took the scenic route back to Los Angeles. After the Lakers, his resume resembled a vintage suitcase with stickers from various destinations, including the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, French team ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne, Washington Wizards, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat and finally, the Clippers.
When Turiaf became a restricted free agent in the 2008 offseason, the clairvoyance of Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak didn’t allow him to match the Warriors’ offer of four years, $17 million. The new contract did little to boost Turiaf’s statistics in Golden State—in two seasons with the Warriors, he averaged 5.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in about 20 minutes per game off the bench.
The Warriors would eventually package him in a trade to New York in order to acquire All-Star forward David Lee. After one season with the Knicks, he played only four games combined in stints with the Wizards and Nuggets before being waived.
However, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A fortuitous signing by the Heat to bolster their frontcourt depth bore fruit for Turiaf in the form of a championship ring in 2012. Unfortunately, he became a man with a ring, but no home until the Clippers signed him as a free agent last summer.
His energy and defensive intensity make him a perfect match with the Clippers’ second unit.
“To me, whenever your name is called, you’ve got to be ready,” said Turiaf, who had three points and seven rebounds against the Charlotte Bobcats on February 26. “You know how I roll—rebound, defend, score easy baskets, make sure that the team is running very well on offense. I stay in (my teammates’) ears and make sure we focus on defense so that everybody is sharp.”
Like Turiaf, Barnes understands the pangs of being a journeyman. The swingman has gone through 11 NBA teams, a NBA Development League team and an American Basketball Association team the past decade.
Like Odom, he too would circle back to the Clippers where he got his first taste of NBA minutes. After being let go by the Lakers in the 2012 offseason, which included a summer run-in with Manhattan Beach authorities, the Clippers took a chance and signed him to a one-year deal two weeks shy of training camp.
“He’s in the right spot,” said Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro. “He runs the court. He guards four positions, basically. He’s a very good slasher. He’s a very good rebounder. So, I’ve been real pleased with Matt and just his activity overall.”
In addition, he’s scoring a career-high 10.6 points per game this season off the bench. His defensive prowess, particularly on the ball and around the perimeter is a lauded asset for the Clippers. He’s also currently averaging a career-high 1.1 steals per game.
Together, Odom, Turiaf and Barnes are vital cogs in the aggregate performance of the Clippers’ bench. Per game, the bench is second in the league in points, third in rebounding, fourth in assists, first in steals and second in blocks.
Individually, they might be Lakers cast-offs, but collectively, their efforts and repurposed skills make a productive Clippers bench.
Ben Hernandez Jr.
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