Lamar Odom blamed his odd last few weeks on indecision, and he blamed it on cold feet, and he blamed it on youth. He was penciled in as the first pick, and he was labeled the best prospect by one NBA general manager. And then faster than an Allen Iverson crossover dribble, he slipped.
Odom, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward from Rhode Island, wasn't the first pick in last night's NBA draft at MCI Center. After a strange odyssey, the man who many thought was the draft's most talented player was selected fourth by the Los Angeles Clippers.
"Hey, when the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan, they weren't the best team," Odom said. "I think if you work hard, listen to your coach, everything will be fine."
Those were calm words from someone who has been unpredictable recently. After a strong workout for Vancouver, which held the No. 2 pick, his pre-draft position took a wild twist. He tried to opt out of the draft and return to Rhode Island for a second year. Rhode Island didn't even bother to ask the NCAA to reinstate his eligibility because Odom had already signed with an agent, which solidified his professional status. Then he skipped workouts at Chicago, which picked first, and Charlotte, which picked third. Minnesota pick Wally Szczerbiak, who played youth basketball with Odom, publicly wondered what Odom was thinking.
"This isn't high school. This is no joke. This is the NBA," Szczerbiak said Tuesday. "I hope he gets things straightened out because he's a great talent."
After being drafted, Odom said he had made mistakes and was trying to look ahead.
"Some of the decisions I made might not have been the best decisions for me at the time," he said, sporting a Clippers hat. "But I'm 19 years old. It's a good thing I didn't make those mistakes when I was 29 and it was too late. God willing, I still got here. . . . Whether you go first or 50th, the key is to get here."
A day before the draft, Odom said his gut feeling was that he would be the first pick. But Chicago General Manager Jerry Krause chose Duke's Elton Brand. Odom tried to keep a cheery outlook.
"I might have been a little disappointed at first, but tomorrow I'd have woken up and been over it and ready to work," he said. "I've been through a lot in my life, much worse than this. I have survived because I'm a tough individual."
Reflecting on the last few weeks, Odom said he would "probably make some different decisions so the ride could be a little smoother and you guys wouldn't rip me so much. But when you make mistakes, it will get out there. I know that now, I learned that. . . . But this is a learning process. I am ready to move forward and play in this league."
A Well-Pressed Man
It was hard to decide which draftee was the best-dressed last night, but St. John's guard Ron Artest wore the fewest wrinkles. Faced with insomnia last night, Artest, who was picked 16th by the Bulls, ironed all of his clothes. Then he ironed them again. "I ironed socks, dollar bills. Heck, I'll iron your shirt," he said to a ruffled sports writer.
Breaking down a full-court press seemed easy compared with trying to sleep before one of the biggest nights of these players' lives. Artest and Brand talked until 4 a.m. before finally falling asleep. UCLA guard Baron Davis played dominos all night before leaving to pick up his girlfriend at the airport at 6 a.m.
However, during an entire night's discussion, Brand and Artest never talked about the possibility of playing together. Artest figured Minnesota might take him, maybe even the Knicks. But he was thrilled to go to the Bulls and play with Brand.
"I know that I can play with someone that's going to work hard," he said. "I think it's going to be a great situation for me."
First Northern Light
Duke shooting guard Trajan Langdon became the first Alaskan to be picked in the NBA draft. Other Alaskans have played professionally, but not in the NBA. Although he was projected to be a late first-round pick, he was selected by Cleveland with the 11th pick. Guard William Avery, who was Langdon's teammate at Duke, was surprised.
"I think Trajan was surprised as well," said Avery, who was picked 14th by the Timberwolves. "In all the mock drafts you never saw his name up there. But I am happy for him. He is a great player and deserves this."
CAPTION: Forward Lamar Odom's long, strange trip to the draft ended when he was picked fourth by the Clippers.