It might seem strange to think of Chris Kaman as the player who could push a team over the hump and get them into the realm of true title contenders, at least at this stage of his NBA career. Nonetheless, that's exactly what he's setting up to do for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Confused about how a 32-year-old center coming off a lackluster season filled with injuries and personality clashes can have that type of impact?
You wont be for long.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the veteran big man signed on board with the Rip City squad for a two-year deal worth—at most—just under $10 million:
Chris Kaman agreed Thursday night to a two-year contract with the Blazers, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. The deal is worth $9.8 million total but only $1 million is guaranteed in the second year. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because NBA contracts cannot be signed until July 10.
Is Kaman worth nearly $5 million per year?
That's iffy, but it's by no means a significant overpay. In a vacuum, the 32-year-old might not be able to command more than the veteran minimum, but the NBA doesn't operate in such a context-free environment.
As you'll see, this move has far-reaching ramifications, all of which are positive for Portland. Plus, the ability to save so much money in the second year is a nice insurance policy in case his decline wasn't solely because of misuse and a lacking of playing time under Mike D'Antoni. During the 2013-14 season, the hunting aficionado spent far too much time on the bench, possibly daydreaming of the next time he could get out the crossbow.
Playing only 18.9 minutes during the average contest, Kaman posted 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 50.9 percent from the field. He was hampered by injuries throughout the campaign, and his lumbering playing style didn't exactly mesh with D'Antoni's up-tempo whims.
The two's feud wasn't exactly a secret:
Chris Kaman said this has been his hardest NBA season "by far." He then added, "ten fold."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 26, 2014
Chris Kaman said he hasn't talked to Mike D'Antoni in the past 3 weeks. Only found out he's starting tonight by lineups— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 26, 2014
In February, Kaman left no doubt about how he felt while speaking with InsideSocial.com's Mark Medina:
Everybody tries to be positive. I want to be professional about it. It wasn’t what I anticipated coming here. Obviously I thought I had an opportunity to play more minutes with Pau. But history shows with Coach D’Antoni’s style, it’s a small guy’s game, I suffer as a result of that. It is what it is. I can’t argue what he’s saying. I have to trust the position of head coach. It’s obviously frustrating at times, especially when you’re losing a lot like that and we had a stretch where it’s tough to sit there and watch knowing I could help or provide an effort to get a change of momentum.
Is it any wonder he's now signing with a team he thinks is a much better fit for his talents?
It shouldn't be, especially after that was the first thing he brought up once his two-year agreement with a new squad became public knowledge:
Chris Kaman on agreeing to deal w/ #Blazers: "This was about fit. I know I have 3 or 4 good years of basketball left. Really good years ..."— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 4, 2014
And Kaman wasn't the only one excited about his upcoming arrival in Portland, one that will become official after contracts can be legitimately signed on July 10. It's always good to get Damian Lillard on board as well:
Damian Lillard on Chris Kaman's addition to the #Blazers: "Love it."— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 4, 2014
Even if Kaman can produce identical numbers to the ones he posted last year, he'll be worth the deal for the Blazers. They may have a number of frontcourt options on the pine, but none are established like Kaman is, and depth is sorely needed on the Rip City bench.
That's what makes this such a scary signing for the rest of the Western Conference.
Portland was often held back by its lack of a contributing bench, forcing the starters into major minutes (luckily, they stayed largely healthy) and wearing them out during the regular season. If Terry Stotts is able to play his second unit without fear of giving up a lead in just the blink of an eye, it'll keep everyone much fresher for the inevitable postseason run.
After all, the starting five—Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez—is staying together, and it's only going to get stronger as Lillard continues improving. Given that this is still a young squad, there's no reason to expect this team to trend anywhere but in a positive direction.
The bench is where the upgrades are needed, and landing a quality veteran like Kaman, one who's presumably chasing a shot at a championship, indicates that more small-scale signings are coming.
Portland with depth is scary. Terrifying, even.
"While Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was coming to terms with just how few of his reserves seemed at all playable in this series, Popovich was drawing a 10-point, seven-rebound performance from Aron Baynes—a bottom-of-the-barrel center who logged all of six minutes in the first round," wrote Sports Illustrated Rob Mahoney after the San Antonio Spurs handed Portland a 116-92 loss to open the second-round playoff series.
If that scenario changes, everything follows suit. After all, the numbers last year just weren't pretty.
According to Hoopsstats.com, the Blazers bench finished No. 27 in defensive efficiency, better than only the Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons. Things weren't much better on offense, as the efficiency ranked dead last, admittedly by a small margin.
Yay for silver linings?
It's the defense where Kaman can help most. Even during his down season with L.A., the Lakers allowed 5.2 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, per Basketball-Reference.com. Over the course of his career, his team's defense has improved by two points over the same span of possessions when he plays, and it's been better with him on the court in seven of his past 10 seasons.
Additionally, things were made worse for Rip City by the lack of playing time the non-starters received. It's not as though the inefficiency was created by too many minutes on the court, falling in line with the typical inverse correlation between volume and effectiveness. The bench players averaged a league-low 13.7 minutes per contest.
Kaman alone may top that mark in an effort to keep Aldridge and Lopez as healthy as possible throughout the year. And as the legitimacy of the second unit grows, more future free agents should flock to one of the true up-and-coming teams in the vaunted West.
Kaman: "I want to be back in playoffs and help the team get back to wining the title. I think the Trail #Blazers are right at that level."— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 4, 2014
The bench, in order of money owed in 2014-15, is now comprised of Kaman, Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland, C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Allen Crabbe and Will Barton.
Given the youth of that group, it's safe to bet on internal improvement, but the Blazers aren't going to be done making small-scale signings like Kaman. Remember, Damian Lillard recently texted some names he'd like to see Portland chase to CSNNW.com's Chris Haynes, "Yeah…Mo Williams," and, "Channing Frye, Vince Carter, Spencer Hawes, Trevor Ariza."
Some of those are reaches, but it's not entirely inconceivable to see some of those veterans—or others of a similar caliber—taking a chance on being a part of something special. Well, it's more inconceivable now that Kaman has absorbed what was likely the team's mid-level exception, but minimum contracts still exist, and the allure of a deep playoff run can often trump monetary impact late in a player's career.
Additionally, the recent signings by other franchises are only driving up prices, which makes this deal more palatable. Dwight Jaynes explains for CSNNW.com:
Faced with the very real prospect of being priced out of a chance to sign Spencer Hawes or Channing Frye for the mid-level exception, the Trail Blazers got an agreement with Chris Kaman Thursday night at around five million bucks for the upcoming season.
Yes, that's the very definition of what's called overpaying for a player. Kaman's contract last season for the Lakers was for just $3.18 million and he did nothing during that year to prove he deserved a raise this season, playing in just 39 games.
That said, Trail Blazer GM Neil Olshey probably had few choices considering what Portland had available to spend in the free-agent frenzy going on this summer. Olshey had to have depth in the frontcourt and he at least grabbed a player capable of being a solid contributor when healthy. Kaman is a smart big man who can score and protect the rim. He's had several solid NBA seasons and is very underrated defensively.
But there's more to the Kaman signing than his personal contributions and the assumption that more veterans are going to be following in his large footsteps. By bringing his talents to Stotts' pine, he's making young talents like Robinson and Leonard increasingly expendable.
Trade bait, anyone?
Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb predicted as much even before the former Laker was brought aboard:
There are plenty of teams out there who'd love to get their hands on some of Portland's young assets. It's unlikely the Trail Blazers will break up their starting lineup, but you could easily see a rebuilding team seeking a package built around guys like McCollum and Leonard. Those are precisely the kind of prospects for whom a bad team will happily wait.
Could Portland gets its hands on a more proven veteran like Thaddeus Young or O.J. Mayo? There's no reason to rule the possibility out, and there's no doubt an acquisition of that magnitude would give Portland a starting-caliber sixth man.
Well, now things are getting really interesting.
If Portland is able to land not just a bench contributor, but a Sixth Man of the Year candidate without breaking the bank and parting ways with one of its impressive starters, it becomes an even more serious threat to exact revenge upon Gregg Popovich and the Spurs during the 2015 postseason.
In a best-case scenario, this is exactly what happens. General manager Neil Olshey swaps some of the young players with upside for a more established talent who can come off the bench as a super sub, and Portland gets a lot more dangerous.
But with Kaman on the board, providing post moves, mid-range shooting and underrated defense from the center position, the worst-case scenario is so much better.
Was Chris Kaman a good signing for the Portland Trail Blazers?
Even if the Blazers aren't able to do anything more than fill up their active roster with nondescript players, their bench is better for adding Kaman, who can serve as a solid insurance policy for a certain Stanford product.
And that had to be the No. 1 goal of the offseason. Not finding insurance for Lopez, but adding depth in general.
Mission accomplished, but not necessarily completed.