The Los Angeles Lakers were never going to tank.
A storied franchise like the Lakers that prides itself on winning championships isn't about to purposely impede their path to success.
Somewhere along the lines, what was an undeniable fact became a debate Chris Kaman was quickly able to quell.
Los Angeles inked Kaman to a one-year deal for the mini mid-level exception, a surprising move considering the circumstances.
Kaman will get the Lakers mini midlevel exception, Im told— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 8, 2013
Standing at seven-feet tall and not yet 32, Kaman is presumably worth more than a smidgen over $3 million annually. And he's certainly worth investing more than a single year in.
Somehow, the Lakers landed him at a discounted rate, and for only year, so as not to compromise their financial flexibility leading into the summer of 2014.
Convincing players to sign for less than their market value is a right normally reserved for contenders and bona fide powerhouses like the Miami Heat, not a team in transition like the Lakers.
Deluded loyalty aside, the Lakers aren't winning any championships next season, adding even more confusion to the signing.
Not only that, we were led to believe that Dwight Howard's departure paved the way for Pau Gasol to play center exclusively, where he's been known to excel. Then we find out the plan is to use Kaman in conjunction with Pau.
Kaman, who has good mid-range shot, will play next to @paugasol as Lakers stick with slow-paced ball that worked late last season.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) July 8, 2013
It's all very murky in Los Angeles right now.
Confusion is certainly the prevailing theme in Tinseltown at the moment, but don't mistake their collective ambivalence for tanking. That's not what they're doing. They wouldn't have signed Kaman if they were.
Perhaps some of us have gotten caught up in the Andrew Wiggins hype or the depth of next year's draft in general.
Maybe we're so used to seeing other teams tank in anticipation of a rebuild that we're forgetting who we're talking about.
These are the Lakers, one of the NBA's flagship teams. They don't rebuild and voluntarily plummet in the standings. They re-tool, restructure and gear up for the next championship run. That's what they're doing now.
To be sure, there aren't any titles to be won for the Lakers next season. Kobe would have us believe otherwise, but in their current state, the Lakers don't stack up against the Western Conference's elite.
Kaman is then part of a stopgap.
Tanking would be all too easy at this point. With Kobe still rehabbing, Mitch Kupchak could have ran the Lakers into the ground for one year as part of a bigger plan. But that's not how they roll.
Injuries in mind, the Lakers still have a competitive roster.
Kobe is legend, Nash is a playmaking genius and Gasol is a four-time All-Star. Kaman is a former All-Star himself. He wouldn't have been brought in, even for one season, if the Lakers wanted to make a run at a top lottery selection.
Take a look a how Kaman's per-36-minute stats compare to that of Howard's last season:
Howard has the edge in just about every category, but not to the point where Kaman can be considered an insignificant addition.
Only six players in the NBA who appeared in a minimum of 50 games last season averaged at least 18 points, nine rebounds and one block on 50 percent or better shooting. Howard wasn't one of them. Kaman was.
Pairing him with Gasol—whether he backs the Spaniard up off the bench or plays next to him in the starting lineup—gives the Lakers a legitimate frontcourt tandem to work around.
Not many teams in the West can say the same. Or even close to it.
Admittedly, we don't know where this leaves they Lakers. They could still end up picking in the lottery next year, or they could make the playoffs. That the latter is even a possibility says it all.
The summer of 2014 will bring changes with it, as the Lakers look to complete a delicate transformation.
Everything they've done over the last year or so has been with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of a talented future free-agency crop in mind. Jeopardizing their inevitable pursuits of superstars has never been an option.
Neither was sacrificing their reputation as a team that cares about winning above all else.
Until the time to chase LeBron and a foray of other superstars arrives, the Lakers will continue to field the best band of players possible. No substitutes, no exceptions.
Actively trying to avoid the playoffs—that's tanking. Amnestying Kobe or Pau—that would be tanking.
By adding Kaman, even with World Peace's departure, the Lakers have made themselves better. Not worse than they were when Howard decided to join the Rockets. Better.
Because the Lakers don't rebuild through the draft, they've been transparent in their intentions for decades. Free agency and trades are how they're going to reformulate the roster, just like they are now.
They wouldn't be the Lakers if they did it any other way.
How will the Lakers fare next season?
So remember that. All of it.
They don't have the patience to develop a prospect that is considered the prize of not meeting expectations.
They won't waste what little time Kobe has left playing for something he won't be around to reap the benefits of.
They won't buy losses in exchange for a coveted draft pick.
The Lakers don't tank. Not now, not ever.