The Lakers’ newly acquired big man remains a familiar name to plenty of Los Angeles fans.
But for those in need of a Chris Kaman introduction, he brings many different qualities than Dwight Howard.
First, the bad.
Kaman hardly fits the defensive prowess that Howard possessed when he won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award three in the past five seasons. Kaman doesn’t even match up to Howard when he was limited last season because of a surgically repaired back, and, the Lakers suspect, inconsistent effort led to diminished athleticism and mobility. Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks let Kaman walk after one season partly because of his defense.
“Defensively I’m a completely different player,” Kaman said. “He’s an above-the-rim player. I can’t play above the rim. He’s been the defensive player of the year multiple times. It’s just a whole different style of basketball. He can just go up there and wait for the ball to come up to him and swat it. It’s completely different.”
Now, the good.
Howard has been considered the league’s best center because his athleticism allows him to overpower people. But Kaman bodes superior in his willingness to play pick-and-roll, post moves and reliable mid-range jumper. Not surprisingly, Kaman’s career 74.4 percent mark from the free throw line trumps Howard’s 57.7 percent clip. All those ingredients ensured Kaman averaging a career 11.8 points and eight rebounds and a lone All-Star appearance in his 10-year career, including eight seasons with the Clippers.
Those qualities should also help Kaman mesh well with Pau Gasol, who became confined last season to a facilitator role along the perimeter partly because of Howard’s limited mid-range game.
“I’m a similar player as Pau. I think I’m inside and outside like he is,” Kaman said. “I think he’s expanded his game as well. He shot some threes last year. I don’t know if I’m going to do that. But I think I complement his game well. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes things work out great. You never can tell what happens.”
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni remains undecided whether he will start Kaman or Jordan Hill at power forward to complement Gasol at the center. But Kaman outlined one quality that Howard lacked last season that showed he’s amenable to either scenario.
“These guys are paying me to do a job. I’ll do the best I can whether I’m starting or coming off the bench,” Kaman said. “Obviously I’d like to start. I’m comfortable doing it and I’ve been doing it for so long. But I don’t know how it’s going to go.”
“I’m focused on doing whatever is best for both of us and for the team,” he continued. “I think I have an inside presence if I need it. I also can shoot the ball from the outside as well. So whatever needs to happen will happen.”
In other words, you won’t hear Kaman complaining about his role. You won’t see him arguing with Steve Nash over a botched pass. You won’t worry about Kaman butting heads with Kobe Bryant. You won’t listen to Kaman griping about how D’Antoni uses him. Instead, you’ll hear how a discussion with the Lakers coach convinced Kaman to sign with the Lakers to a one-year deal at the mini mid-level exception worth $3.2 million after making $8 million last season with the Dallas Mavericks.
“I liked the conversation we had. We talked and he was a straight shooter,” Kaman said of D’Antoni. “I respect that more than anything. It’s hard to play when a guy is a liar. It’s hard to do. I’ve had some coaches that it was hard to trust. And owners. Here, with Coach D’Antoni, there’s no questions. He shoots it straight and I respect that.”
Which coaches and owners did Kaman feel lied to him during his various stints with the Clippers (2003-2011), New Orleans Hornets (2011-12) and Dallas Mavericks (2012-13)?
“You’re going to get me in trouble. I’m done with all that stuff,” Kaman said. “I’m not saying a team lied to me, but people have been dishonest about things in the past whether it was coaches, owners, assistant coaches or whoever. I had unique experiences where it leaves you not trustworthy of other people when you come into a new situation. You always hover around. When I was young, I didn’t know this was a business the way it is. I was dumb and young so I just played hard and ran around and played hard as best as I could. Then you start to realize when the business comes around. This is interesting. It’s gotten to me where I’m at now. I’m happy to be here and I’m excited.”
Kaman may have declined to go into detail. But his frustrations with other teams are well documented.
He hardly liked that the Clippers didn’t inform him personally that he was part of the Chris Paul trade. With New Orleans, Kaman was reduced to a bench role and reportedly was asked to stay away so the Hornets could deal him. In his lone season with Dallas, Kaman averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds, a drop-off from his career averages of 11.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
Afterwards, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told reporters Kaman wasn’t a good fit both because of his well-documented defensive lapses with Dirk Nowitzki and his apparent tendency to put the ball on the floor instead of running pick-and-pops.
Pro Basketball Talk looked up statistics from Synergy Sports Technology contradicting Cuban’s claim, showing 47 percent of Kaman’s offensive possessions came on post-ups or as the roll man in pick-and-rolls. Meanwhile, 16 percent of Kaman’s looks resulted from spot-up shooting or isolation plays. In all, Kaman took 159 catch-and-shoot jumpers compared to 29 shots off the dribble.
“He doesn’t look at the numbers. He just talks,” Kaman said of Cuban. “If you look at the numbers, that’s not true. That’s what the guy writing the story about said that it wasn’t that bad with me and Dirk in there. They thought when me and Dirk were there, defensively it wasn’t a great matchup. They had their thoughts. That’s their team. Cuban owns the team and I respect him. He takes care of his players and treats everybody really well. He does a great job. That’s his organization. It’s his decision to make. I can’t say anything bad about him. He treated me really well. He’s a really good guy. I respect him. I just don’t think he looked at the numbers.”
Still, Kaman clearly didn’t respect the Mavericks that much.
“I skipped my exit meeting. I knew I wasn’t going to go back there,” Kaman said. “Not that it was bad. I just didn’t feel like they liked what I brought to the table or they would’ve given me more opportunities and have more leeway when I was playing. There would be games I’d play well and then games I wouldn’t play at all. It was just frustrating for me and I just didn’t feel comfortable there. And they didn’t feel comfortable having me, so I pretty much ruled that one out right away.”
Kaman vowed his previous defensive issues won’t bleed over onto the Lakers even with the team losing speed and physicality from Howard and Metta World Peace.
“With the length Pau has and his ability to block shots and rebound, I think we can control the paint really well,” Kaman said. “What speed are we losing? How fast are the bigs in this league? There’s a couple of bigs that make it challenging. But most of the bigs – that’s a five man thing. It’s not a one-on-one or two-on-two. There’s help defense for a reason. At this point, we’re not going to out-jump people. It’s going to be about positioning and about intelligence and putting your body in the right place at the right time.”
Perhaps it will be easier said than done.
Although Kaman reports he’s fully healthy, he has fought through numerous injuries in recent years, including a 10-game absence last season because of a concussion. Kaman, who said he weighs 268 pounds, hopes to lose five more pounds in hopes it will improve his conditioning.
Still, after years wearing the red and blue with Los Angeles’ crosstown team, Kaman sounded eager donning purple and gold regardless of what his role will entail.
“This is my job so whoever my boss is, I’m loyal to,” Kaman said. “That’s how it works. I played this game long enough in this system to know that it is a business. You have to understand that. Also, when you’re in a business, you’re meant to do a job. So I’m going to do the best that I can and go from there.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org