A year ago, Chris Kaman had to be fighting some mixed emotions. He had just fought through a tough year with the Dallas Mavericks, struggling to build long-term value on a one-year, $8MM make-good contract. Kaman's goal was to show the league that, after a throwaway year with the bottom-dwelling New Orleans Hornets, he was still able to put up All-Star numbers on a good team. Paired with Dirk Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion, the "Kaveman" looked to be exactly the type of player that could take advantage of the team's lack of low post options. It seemed like a great gamble.
Unfortunately, none of that really came to pass. In 66 games, with 16 missed largely due to injury, Kaman put up some solid stats with 10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg and nearly one block in 20 minutes per contest. They were good numbers certainly, but with his growing defensive deficiencies, age and the fact that the Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, Chris wasn't going to get the lucrative long-term deal he desired.
That being said, his one-year, $3MM pact with the Lakers was still somewhat surprising. The fact that Kaman couldn't get even two years at a low annual value seemed strange, as his rebounding and offensive contributions seemed to merit something even at the modest range of two years and around $6MM. But if Kaman was again going to rebuild value, what better platform to do it on but with Mike D'Antoni, whose offense-first basketball philosophy seemed to accentuate everything that Chris brought to the table.
Before the season, the front office and coaching staff talked as if the playoffs were in reach, but anyone who really paid attention to the team had to be reading between the lines. The team's three resident All-Stars, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had all had very significant injuries in the past twelve months and wouldn't be completely ready for the beginning of the regular season (and in Pau's case, getting back into shape after spending much of the summer off his feet). With those players at the very least starting off slowly and the other front court players being youngsters like Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly, the opportunity looked ripe for Kaman and Jordan Hill to get major minutes. For the second consecutive season, it felt like the stage was set for Kaman to put up a nightly 16/8 and grab himself a two- or three-year deal.
Sadly for Kaman, the clock ran itself back once again. From the outset, it seemed as though Coach D'Antoni couldn't quite get a feel for how he wanted to use his new center, reluctant to play him alongside the bounding Hill or the plodding Gasol. Offensively, there was little doubt that Kaman could get the job done, hitting that sweet 10 foot jumper with consistency and demonstrating a still potent low post scoring acumen that had gotten him handsomely paid for years with the Clippers. Still, whether it be that he felt the even more offensively varied Gasol was a better option or that he liked Hill's defensive skills, MDA slowly worked Kaman out of his rotation. The big man ended the year with just 39 games played, with many absences the result of the very ignominious DNP-CD variety. As the year progressed, Kaman found himself phasing in and out of the rotation depending on which Laker had been hit with the injury bug, as well as sitting in lieu of developing guys like Sacre, Kelly and Wesley Johnson.
It was an entirely forgettable year for Kaman, so much so that his lasting impression on the team may be his completely horizontal naptime on a deserted Lakers bench during the impossibly hilarious January win in Cleveland. What's most remarkable about his likely lone season with the Lakers is that Kaman, despite his sporadic playing time, was able to put up nearly identical numbers to his 2012-2013 season with the Mavericks. In slightly fewer minutes, there doesn't seem to be any sort of statistical lag between the two seasons on the offensive end, which is a compliment to a player who rarely complained and always showed up to do his job no matter what the circumstance. Defensively, Kaman was a 2013-2014 Los Angeles Laker, which means that he hardly played any. The Kaveman had rarely been referred to as a stopper his entire career, and this past year wasn't any different. He was routinely destroyed in the low post by any big man with solid footwork and his defense on pick and roll players was hardly exemplary. I wouldn't go so far as to say Kaman was a liability on that end of the floor, but he's proven not to be a true shot blocker or paint deterrent.
Still, it was an extremely disappointing year for Kaman, who couldn't seem to build a niche for himself on one of the league's worst teams. Worse yet, it may not have been anything that he did or did not do--on a squad with horrid defenders all around and injuries hitting every quadrant of the roster, it became a philosophical coaching decision that squeezed him out of the lineup.
Even after putting up another year of solid production with even worse working conditions, it's apparent that Kaman is in line for yet another short-term deal. At age 32, he's most likely going to be a bench option for most teams and might not get much more than the veteran's minimum salary. With Mike D'Antoni gone, Kaman's return with the team is going to largely depend on who the new coach is and if the big man wants to return after such a disappointing year. The Lakers could certainly use another professional body in there at a cheap salary, seeing as how at least 10 players will be free agents in a couple months time. However, I'd bet that Kaman signs with another team much closer to contention as a reserve big.
But no matter what happens, we'll always have this: