Less than a week into the season, and the Lakers already have their first player publicly clamoring for a different role.
Lakers forward Chris Kaman would like to play more minutes alongside Pau Gasol. But this suggestion reflected more of Kaman’s honesty than any dissatisfaction with coach Mike D’Antoni.
Quite the opposite.
“It’s not easy, but I want to be patient with coach because he’s a good guy and he’s been straight with me,” Kaman said following the Lakers’ 105-103 Sunday over the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center. “We’ve talked. He said he wants to get me in more, but he wants to do everything. It’s hard to make everybody healthy and do your job and try to win. There’s a lot going on there for him. It’s hard to coach the Lakers, the top franchise ever in any sport. I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure. I’m trying to be patient.”
Kaman posted 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench, roughly mirroring the 8.8 points on 58.6 percent clip and 5.3 rebounds he’s averaging in 16.5 minutes through four regular-season games.
Kaman often played along with Gasol, starting in four of five exhibition games together and posting double-digit efforts. But a bout of salmonella stemmed from the Lakers’ nine-day trip in China kept Kaman out of three practices and two preseason games. It also prompted D’Antoni to start Shawne Williams at power forward because of his preference for smaller lineups and so-called stretch forwards that can space the floor. D’Antoni also has said Kaman still needs to catch up on his conditioning stemmed from his absence.
“He made shots” D’Antoni said. “I thought he played pretty well. I know he wants to play more minutes and that’s only natural, but that’s kind of the way it’s going to be for a while until something happens. We have a lot of guys and everybody is going to have to produce when they can. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. I’d love to give guys more minutes, but if I give him more minutes, I’m taking them away from someone else. I think everybody right now deserves a shot at it.”
So far, that shot has gone to a number of candidates.
Despite Williams averaging 3.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting, D’Antoni has kept him in the starting lineup because of his like how he spaces the floor for Gasol in the post and for Steve Nash on pick-and-rolls. Wesley Johnson has shown a solid effort defending power forwards, holding Clippers forward Blake Griffin scoreless last week in the fourth quarter. Lakers forward Jordan Hill has provided reliable energy and rebounding.
“The hard part about playing 10 guys is they can’t get the rhythm they want to get,” Kaman said. “It’s not a knock on coach or anybody else. But it is what it is. When you have 10 players to coach, it’s hard to figure out what you want to do.”
Kaman has a pretty good idea on what he wants to do, though.
“I’d like to have more minutes with [Gasol],” Kaman said. “I think coach is getting there. We’ll see. It could go in any direction. When we play a team that plays small like tonight, you want to play Wes and Shawne more. And that’s fine. But there’s times like when we’ll go to Houston it’s going to be a bigger lineup and bigger matchups. I’m not sure you want to play Shawne or Wes against Dwight Howard. But at the same time, those guys have to guard them in the perimeter.”
Does D’Antoni sound open toward Kaman’s proposal?
“I don’t want to make it harder for him,” Kaman said. “I want to do my job and not complain and take it in strides. There’s a long way to go. If we want to be successful, we can’t complain and gripe and shoot people in the back of the head. It’s not going to work that way. That’s not a team. That’s not how it works.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org