The sarcasm poured out of Chris Kaman’s mouth as he prepared for an unexpected start in the Lakers’ game tonight against the New York Knicks at Staples Center after spending most of the season sitting on the bench.
“I’m thrilled!” Kaman said. “I’m enthralled! I’m ready to go!”
Kaman has sat out the past 10 games partly because he has a sore right foot and mostly because he has fallen out of Mike D’Antoni’s rotation. Kaman also missed time despite Jordan Hill skipping six games this month because of a hyperextended right knee and Pau Gasol leaving the second half of the Lakers’ win Sunday over Orlando because of vertigo.
D’Antoni’s rationale for Kaman’s lack of playing time remains two fold. He typically wants to feature a post player with a so-called stretch forward to maximize floor spacing and outside shooting. D’Antoni has also cited Hill and Robert Sacre as better defenders than Kaman.
“Either it’s very short minutes for him, or he starts, and he’s a much better starter,” D’Antoni said. “It wasn’t even his fault. It’s just the way it works out.”
Kaman’s unexpected lack of playing time, the Lakers’ injury-riddled roster and the persistent losing all contributed to what he considered his most frustrating season in his 10-year career.
“By far,” Kaman said. “Ten fold.”
Bold words considering Kaman’s previous circumstances. He played eight seasons with the Clippers when they experienced mediocrity. Kaman was traded to New Orleans in the deal that brought Chris Paul to the Clippers. Kaman had an inconsistent role last season with Dallas.
Kaman signed with the Lakers this offseason to a one-year deal worth the mini mid-level exception ($3.2 million) as a decent consolation prize toward Dwight Howard leaving for Houston. But Kaman has sat out for 32 games mostly because of a string of DNP’s.
“I’m not at peace about it. I’m [ticked] about it,” Kaman said. “I can’t control it. I’m not in charge. I don’t run the show. I don’t run the wheels. I don’t make the clock work. It’s somebody else. I’m a puppet. I don’t have my own strings under control. It’s tough. But the best thing I can do is play and be positive and finish on a strong note.”
Kaman vowed he would not “throw anybody under the bus.” But he also revealed he hasn’t spoken with D’Antoni since they had what he called a “casual conversation” three weeks ago in Portland. Kaman said he learned he would start when D’Antoni announced the starting lineups during morning shootaround. Kaman declined to comment on whether he and D’Antoni ever talked this season about his diminished role.
“Every coach is different. They rely on you to be professional,” Kaman said. “We’re here and capable of playing in the NBA. It’s just a question of manipulating players into situations and taking care of egos and emotions and being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out, small fires here or there and keeping everybody’s egos together and manage that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”
Despite his inconsistent playing time, Kaman has proved remarkably consistent when he has started other times for Gasol when he experienced various ailments including an upper respiratory infection and a strained right groin. Through eight games as a starter, Kaman has averaged 14 points on 46.2 percent shooting and 9.3 rebounds. He has averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 rebounds overall this season.
Still, Kaman conceded he might feel rusty after such a prolonged absence. He also has not fit in any on-court practice time. The Lakers typically have light practices both to accommodate the hefty schedule and because of their injury-depleted roster.
“The best thing to do is be a professional about it and try to be as ready as you can,” Kaman said. “It’s been a long season. I can’t wait until it’s over. I’ll say that. It’s finishing strong, being the best can do and take advantage of the opportunities I can get. It’s tough.”