Chris Kaman still has something left in the tank. The question is, who’s going to pay for it and how much?
The big man with the soft shooting touch played just 39 games during the Los Angeles Lakers’ snakebitten campaign. And despite being in and out of Mike D’Antoni’s constant rotation shuffle, Kaman still offered up the highest per-36 scoring numbers of his 11 seasons in the NBA.
It was a lost opportunity for the former All-Star.
Kaman wasn’t shy about making his feelings known throughout the season. But when the exit interviews rolled around, he sought some middle ground—acknowledging that he simply didn’t fit into his coach’s style of offense.
Per Eric Pincus for The Los Angeles Times, the veteran center met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni on Thursday at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo and afterward, as is the custom, spoke to the assembled media:
“This is a tough style of basketball here for me. I came here thinking it was going to be two bigs, me and Pau [Gasol]. No one really said that, but I think I anticipated that—why else would they call me?"
Later in the media session, Kaman accepted a level of responsibility for the bad fit, saying he probably should have done his due diligence before accepting the job offer (a one-year deal for $3,183,000):
"That's probably something more my fault, that I should have paid more attention to going into this. But you think traditional Lakers basketball, two bigs—a lot of high post, elbows stuff."
You get the feeling Kaman won’t make that mistake again. He’s not ready to be just another paycheck utility player, serving as an insurance policy in case of injury.
Kaman’s time with the Lakers was marked by bursts of activity interspersed with extended bench vacations. He went nine games without playing at one point, seven games on another occasion and 12 during an especially long rest period from late February to mid-March.
When he was inserted however, he was good—racking up stretches of double-doubles before being banished again. On March 30 during a win against the Phoenix Suns, Kaman had 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. A couple days later he was consigned to the bench for good—sitting the last eight games of the season.
This is the second disappointing experience in a row for Kaman, who signed a one-year, $8 million deal to play with the Dallas Mavericks last season. According to Tim MacMahon for ESPN Dallas, Kaman wasn’t happy with what he saw as a limited role:
“It’s not really fun sitting over there playing 10, 15 minutes a game. You know, it’s frustrating, but I guess it’s on me.”
To be fair, Kaman actually started 52 out of 66 games for the Mavs, averaging 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 20.7 minutes.
The overall game stats weren’t much different this season—10.4 points and 5.9 boards at 18.9 minutes per game. The difference, of course, is the 43 times he didn’t get off the bench.
Kaman is clearly a guy who doesn’t like idle time. Selected as the No. 6 overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2003, he’s always had a hard time sitting still.
In 2008, Jonathan Abrams of The Los Angeles Times wrote about Kaman’s rambunctious childhood and an early misdiagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that resulted in years of taking Ritalin and Adderall. It wasn’t until the 2007-08 season that he began working with neuropsychologist Tim Royer, using neurofeedback therapy to slow his brainwaves.
The difficulty with focusing caused challenges for the 7-footer under Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy, whose playbook was notoriously thick and detailed. Nonetheless, Kaman blossomed into one of the league’s elite big men, an ambidextrous scorer with the ability to play both post-up and pick-and-roll.
How does all this translate moving forward? First, it’s important to note that Kaman is who he is—still impulsive with his words and a guy who wants to be in the game in a meaningful way.
And, if he’s serious about paying better attention to where he fits in the basketball universe, he’ll have time to do his homework—free agency doesn’t begin until July 1.
Of course, for an 11-year center who wants to play as much as possible, and in a system not necessarily predicated on the new vogue of small ball, those opportunities could be limited.
On the other hand, there's the matter of the great equalizer—money.
According to The Richest, Kaman's net worth is $27 million. It's doubtful he's playing for the cash at this point in his career. He wants to roll with some meaningful basketball before he calls it quits, and this could work to the advantage of both parties.
Which teams could get a steal with the bearded wilderness enthusiast who can sink hook shots with either hand?
Tim Duncan has a player’s option with the San Antonio Spurs for next season and probably won’t decide whether to retire or play one more year until after the playoffs. Regardless, the Spurs are a team with a number of potential vacancies—Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw will both be free agents this summer.
And what about the New York Knicks? Could Kaman function within the triangle offense if new team president Phil Jackson installs it next season? Without any cap room, the Knicks will be looking to sign veteran minimum salary deals.
It’s all random speculation at this point—the summer is still a season away. But some organizations will look hard at a veteran who is still aching to play and who can put up 28 and 17 on short notice.
Chris “the Caveman” Kaman—one of the league’s true characters and a legitimately gifted scorer, is on the loose again and available for hire.
He could be a steal this summer, for the right team.