Del Negro says Odom can still play, but that’s not what is important right now

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Lamar Odom the basketball player is and should be a secondary thought right now.

It is Lamar Odom the person that has hit a deep downward spiral, one that has culminated in a drug problem and a DUI arrest, who needs help. There are friends from the game around him trying to reach him, trying to help him back up on his feet. Whether he is listening to them or not, that is the question. But there is a lot of concern and genuine well wishes for Odom around the league — he was well liked by teammates, media and coaches.

Former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro is one of those, and he told the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Dwyer that basketball will still be there for Odom.

“He is a good guy, a good teammate,” Del Negro said from his home in Phoenix. “Everybody liked him. There were no issues. I understand he is going through a lot right now. It is never easy. He has always had some difficult obstacles and they weigh on him a lot. You feel bad, but you hope he is all right…

“Lamar can still play,” he said. “It’s not the basketball skills that are the problem. Once he gets himself in shape and gets his mind wrapped around basketball, he can help somebody.”

That’s not what all teams think — one executive told the Times “Lamar can’t play anymore.” Certainly his struggles on the court the last couple seasons and the fact he is 34 make you think a comeback is a longshot.

Maybe that comeback can help motivate him. Odom has had advantages in life but to know him is to know his life was not easy — his father was a drug addict, his mother died of cancer when he was 12, his child died of sudden infant death syndrome at six months, and while in New York for the funeral of one family member a town car he was a passenger in hit and killed a 15-year-old cyclist.

Odom has made his made his share of mistakes (the drug suspension early in his NBA career), gone through a lot and he persevered. That made him more than just another two-dimensional player, but someone real. Someone you could relate to because none of us have been spared some degree of tragedy. He was a case where you could hope for redemption.

I still do.

While I would love to see Odom back on the court some day, what I really just want to see is him and his laugh back around the game. I want that for him because it means he will have persevered again.