The process took about seven months to happen. But Chris Kaman finally had a week with the Lakers that didn’t solely entail sitting on the bench.
In the Lakers’ 92-86 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center, Kaman dropped 27 points and 10 rebounds, making a flurry of mid-range shots and operating in the post. The same thing happened in the Lakers’ 2-1 trip last week where he cracked double digits in two of those performances. Yet, even with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni calling Kaman “a very good offensive player” and praising his effort on defense, it hardly sounded promising whether this will actually enhance his long-term role.
Assuming Pau Gasol returns from a strained right groin after the All-Star break and isn’t traded before the Feb. 20 deadline, Kaman’s playing time will decrease once again.
“It’s the structure of the team,” D’Antoni said. “When Pau comes back, it’s tough. Get ready to write a nice article and kill me. Whatever you want to do.”
D’Antoni’s been killed with that question all season. Same with Kaman. The Lakers acquired him this offseason worth $3.2 million as a decent consolation prize after losing the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Even with the Lakers suffering defensively without Howard, they raved that Kaman’s versatile skillset could make a better fit with Gasol than Howard’s limited post presence ever provided.
Yet, such a pairing reached nothing more than a lineup experiment for a few preseason games.
“Everybody tries to be positive. I want to be professional about it. It wasn’t what I anticipated coming here,” Kaman said. “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.”
Kaman provided plenty of that against Chicago. In fact, Kaman has provided a pretty dependable effort anytime he’s actually received significant playing time. Kaman has posted in double-digit efforts in 11 of the 27 games he’s received playing time. Even on days he’s not expected to play much, Kaman still remains pretty active in private workouts with Lakers development coaches Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis.
“The whole season has been a frustrating year for me personally,” Kaman said. “Guys are frustrated as well. It’s been so up and down and inconsistent. Part of that is having injuries. Part of that is a lot of guys are on one year deals not knowing what they want to do and not knowing where they’re supposed to be. The more time we have together as a unit out there, the better it is. But with guys getting hurt and guys being in and out, it’s not easy.”
It hasn’t been easy for Kaman, whose dwindling playing time has mostly reflected D’Antoni’s belief that Robert Sacre bodes better on defense and that Ryan Kelly helps the Lakers’ offense better with floor spacing.
“You guys can check my track record. I’ve been pretty successful in a lot of different areas,” Kaman said. “I think I can play. It’s just hard to show what you can do in five, six, seven and 10 minutes. Sometimes it’s not a good way to analyze a player.”
Kaman has averaged 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 17.3 minutes, a dropoff from the career 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds he posted in 28.2 minutes in his 11-year career. Kaman also had high numbers last season in Dallas (10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds) and New Orleans in 2011-12 (13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds) despite a more diminished role than his eight-year career with the Clippers. There, Kaman averaged 11.9 points on 48.7 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds, including a career 18.5 points and 9.6 rebounds that led to his lone All-Star appearance in 2010.
“Chris was not in the rotation not because of what he did. He’s been playing well,” D’Antoni said. “Chris Kaman’s a very good basketball player, so we’ll try to work it out and try to figure it out somehow.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org