DENVER – Coach Rick Carlisle prefers to keep his starting lineup under wraps until the NBA-mandated 16 minutes before tip-off, but Chris Kaman cleared up any mystery about who would start at center Thursday night for the Mavericks.
“I’m starting tonight,” Kaman said, “but that’s all I know.”
In other words, Kaman doesn’t know whether he’ll play two minutes or 32 minutes. It’s been that kind of season for the 10-year veteran center who signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the expectation of being a starter.
The 7-foot Kaman, billed as Dallas’ best offensive center during the Dirk Nowitzki era, has started 44 games this season but played sparingly since returning from a concussion six weeks ago. Kaman had played a total of only 12 minutes in the previous four games before getting the start Tuesday night against the Lakers.
With Elton Brand dealing with a sore calf that might sideline him against the Nuggets, the Mavs need Kaman now. Kaman has handled a frustrating season like a pro, preparing to play a significant role even while getting two DNP-CDs in a span of three games last week.
“Obviously, I’m frustrated,” Kaman said. “I probably have said some negative things in practices and stuff like that out loud, just being frustrated. But I’m never going to throw anybody under the bus. I don’t think that’s the way to go. It doesn’t benefit anybody in this situation. It makes me look bad. It makes other people look bad.
“I’d rather just do my job and try to do the best I can do at it.”
Kaman, who is averaging 10.7 points and 5.4 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game, actually did his job pretty well in Tuesday night’s loss. There were some defensive lapses – a primary factor in his inconsistent playing time – but Kaman scored 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes. The Mavs lost by 20, but they were outscored by only two points with Kaman on the floor.
“Coming in and signing here, I thought he was going to get a lot more minutes and a bigger role, but I’m proud of him,” said Nowitzki, who has been close to Kaman since the American-born center played a key role in the German national team qualifying for the 2008 Olympics. “These last couple of weeks, he’s just rolled with the punches and worked out. I saw him run on the treadmill every day, just trying to keep in shape, and I think it showed last game in L.A.”
Did that performance earn Kaman more minutes?
“I’ve been very consistent all year on saying that Kaman is a valuable player for us,” Carlisle said. “I like the way he played the other night. You can do the math from there.”
That math often hasn't worked out the way Kaman wants.
"I can take it and go negative with it and flip it around and just be the worst person ever and try to disrespect everybody and try to figure everything out, but that’s just not my style," Kaman said. "I’m frustrated obviously about the situation, but it’s not something that I can control. I just want to continue to try to improve and keep myself in good shape and ready to play, and when I get the opportunities, try to do the best that I can do."