METAIRIE, La. — It was early March in 2003, and the Clippers, awash in youth and potential but unable to put aside personal agendas, were 19-39. Coach Alvin Gentry took the fall, and was fired from his post. Shortly after that, his phone rang.

It was Lamar Odom, the team’s star forward.

“He picked up the phone and called me up,” Gentry recalled Wednesday at Pelicans training camp. “He said, ‘I want to apologize because I feel like I am as respon

sible as anybody for getting you fired because I didn’t play the way I supposed to and I didn’t do what I was supposed to.’ I been in the league 27 years, and that’s happened once, OK? And it was Lamar Odom who did it.”

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Gentry, now the Pelicans' head coach, was stung in the wee hours of Wednesday morning when he was unable to sleep and turned on the news. There, he saw that Odom is now reportedly fighting for his life after having been found unconscious in a Nevada brothel over the weekend.

“I just woke up last night at about three in the morning and saw that on TV,” Gentry told Sporting News. “To me, it is a sad, sad thing because you’re not talking about a bad human being. He is so giving of himself, and that is probably the thing that hurt him most. He is so giving that I think people take advantage of him.”

Odom played 14 NBA seasons, but his career collapsed in 2011 after he was dealt from the Lakers to the Mavericks. He was only 32 at the time but reportedly struggled with drug issues, and his wife, reality star Khloe Kardashian, said he was also battling depression. After years of speculation, the couple divorced officially in July.

Odom had a troubled upbringing, during which his father was a heroin user and his mother died when he was 12. Gentry said he felt Odom’s biggest struggle has been his self-worth.

“I just want him, and I think everybody who knows Lamar has always wanted him to just get better, No. 1,” Gentry said. “And I always wanted him to find something he could hold on to, to make him feel value. In himself. Because he is a great human being, there’s not anything he wouldn’t do for anybody. I just think, if he were able to find himself, that would be great.”

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Gentry thought that Odom’s marriage to Kardashian would be a good thing for him, that it would give Odom a solid foundation and keep away the many hangers-on who frequently took advantage of Odom. But Odom seemed unable to be comfortable the marriage.

“I thought, personally, I thought Khloe was great for him,” Gentry said. “I thought she really loved him and wanted to protect him and take care of him. But on his side, he didn’t know how to handle that. He never had anybody who was just there to protect him and didn’t want anything. All she wanted from him — I felt like, she just wanted Lamar to love her back. It is a sad situation.”

Odom is only 35, and Gentry shakes his head when thinking about the talent Odom had for the game, pointing out that he should still be playing. But more important, Gentry is saddened by the situation because he’s always thought that Odom was, at heart, a good guy.

“I don’t know,” Gentry said. “You just hope that maybe he comes out of this and something good comes out of it and he becomes the guy that I think he can be.”