- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS -- Chris Kaman isn’t a happy camper about the Mavericks’ center committee.
Kaman didn’t envision himself coming off the bench behind two other big men, including a second-round rookie, when the one-time All-Star signed a one-year, $8 million deal to come to Dallas.
Then again, it’s not as if the Mavs having an uphill battle to claim one of the Western Conference’s final playoff spots was in the plans, either.
Coach Rick Carlisle’s plans regarding the distribution of minutes with the Mavs’ centers can change as quickly as Texas weather. Bernard James became the third big man to start for the Mavs in the last three games, making his first career start during Sunday’s win over the Phoenix Suns.
Kaman, meanwhile, played a season-low 11 minutes.
“It’s frustrating,” Kaman said, “so I’d rather not talk about it and get myself in trouble if I say some things I shouldn’t.”
It’s no secret that the 7-foot, 265-pound Kaman has struggled defensively, especially when playing next to Dirk Nowitzki. That’s one of the reasons Elton Brand has been getting the majority of the big man minutes for the last few weeks. Carlisle opted to start James, the 27-year-old former Air Force sergeant, because he’s the Mavs’ most athletic, energetic center.
“He’s energetic and he goes hard,” Carlisle said of James, who didn’t play in 15 of the Mavs’ previous 20 games. “The biggest thing that we need right now is energy. We need any kind of injection of it we can get.”
That left Kaman as the Mavs’ third-string center, at least for one night. He actually performed pretty well in that role, scoring six points on 2-of-4 shooting and grabbing five rebounds in his 11 minutes. Not that he’s pleased with that.
“It’s not really fun sitting over there playing 10, 15 minutes a game,” said Kaman, who is averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds but has a negative plus-minus this season. “You know, it’s frustrating, but I guess it’s on me.
“It’s been kind of building up lately. Elton’s been playing pretty well. I don’t know the situation exactly, the details of all of it, but Coach does what he thinks is going to help the team. That’s really all I can say.”
Brand, who had 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 17 minutes Sunday night, seemed to take Sarge’s promotion to starter much better than Kaman. In fact, Brand suggested that it was a smart adjustment on Carlisle’s part, pointing out that James’ game complements Nowitzki's well.
“I want to win,” Brand said. “I’m out there when I’m out there. My goal is to win some games. I like Sarge when he’s out there because he’s going to play some defense, he’s going to let Dirk pop when he dives and he’s going to give us some minutes. I’m glad he’s getting the opportunity. And he’s going to get better at that role.
“I like that move even though I sat. I was one-and-done (as the starting center), but I like the move. It helps the team.”
How well the move work is certainly subject for debate and film review. James, the Mavs’ best rim protector and per-minute rebounder, had two points and three rebounds in 11 minutes. The Mavs were outscored by eight with him on the floor.
At least James knows his role, calling himself “a defender/rebounder/energy guy.” Brandan Wright is still trying to figure out how he fits with the Mavs, although he got his most minutes in almost a month, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds in 11 minutes Sunday.
“You’ve just got to roll with the punches and see what happens,” said Wright, who started the first eight games of the season.
Kaman is learning that lesson the hard way, leading Nowitzki to encourage his former German national teammate to “stay with it” and be aggressive when he comes off the bench.
Who will start at center Tuesday in Portland? How will the big man minutes be distributed during the upcoming four-game road trip?
“No idea. No idea,” Brand said with a chuckle, noting that he only cares about being part of the finishing five.
“I don’t necessarily want it to be like this,” Carlisle said. “I’d like there to be some consistency and some rhythm to some things, but we’re not there yet. That’s the truth.”
That truth is tough for Kaman to handle, but competing for a playoff spot ranks far above keeping players happy among Carlisle’s priorities.