I spent the last couple weeks working on a feature about Lamar Odom for the soon-to-be released Lakers Magazine, which will be the team's official publication. The great thing for me -- aside from being with Lamar, which was fascinating -- was getting to spend some quality time at practices and with players.
A few thoughts on the upcoming season:
Kobe Bryant, for the first time in his career, is starting to sound like his own person. There is nothing specific that I can quote that really points to this; it was more a general observation about him and his demeanor. For the first part of his career, he seemed to be channeling Michael Jordan down to the tongue-wagging. In press conferences, he always felt like he was trying to say something that sounded like what MJ might say. Maybe after Colorado, he lost the compulsion to live up to the expectations of the rest of the basketball world since his shiny, all-American varnish was gone. Or maybe it's having finally stepped out of the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal, allowing him to actually take a good look at himself. Or maybe it was that first season being alone, and realizing that he couldn't get it all done without help. Or maybe it's just growing up.
Odom is going to have a breakout year. It wasn't really well-documented when it happened, especially since he wasn't up to speaking with the media, but it has been published locally now: His seven-month old son died over the summer. The months between then and now, as one might imagine (or be unable to imagine, really), have been rough ones for him; there were times when he didn't think he'd set foot on a court again. But ever since the preseason started, he's been extraordinarily focused, and is looking much more like a vocal leader on the floor. There won't be the deferring to Kobe that marked his first season and a half here.
The Lakers, in general, have the feel of a team that knows where it's going. They're still a young team, and it remains to be seen what version of Kwame Brown decides to show up. But they did well last year, particularly in the second half of the season, and there's no reason why they shouldn't pick up right where they left off. And adding an outside shooter in Vladimir Radmanovic is going to be a huge addition to the arsenal.