- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Could Chris Kaman go from putting up 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists on Sunday to finding himself out of the rotation on Tuesday when the Lakers host the Portland Trail Blazers?
Kaman's breakout game in L.A.'s 115-99 rout of the Phoenix Suns came with Pau Gasol sidelined. Gasol, finally starting to recover from the symptoms stemming from his bout of vertigo that kept him out the last four games, is considered probable to play against the Blazers.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has said repeatedly that he feels like Gasol and Kaman have overlapping skill sets and only likes to play one of them at a time.
But with that type of game out of Kaman, doesn't the coach have to reconsider that premise and play the two big men together regardless?
"I don’t know, I was going to ask you guys to give me scenarios that I’d be able to play them," D'Antoni said after practice Monday. "You have five guys for two positions and 96 minutes, so you’ve got to figure out how to split the minutes up. It’s hard to play when you only play four or five minutes, so we’ve got to figure that out."
Kaman did not speak to reporters after practice Monday but Gasol spoke up on his behalf.
"After a monster game like (Sunday), it’s hard to bench a guy like that or even not play him like he hasn’t for the most part of the year," Gasol said, referring to D'Antoni as "he" and later as "the coach" rather than by name. "You got to give (Kaman) some credit and understand he’s a valuable piece and one of our best pieces right now."
Gasol and Kaman played together sparingly in the preseason, but after Kaman came down with food poisoning on the team's trip to China, he found himself replaced by Shawne Williams in the starting lineup.
The Lakers shuffled through starting unit after starting unit as the season played out -- D'Antoni alternating at times between a stretch 4 or a power forward -- but rarely did Gasol and Kaman find themselves on the floor together.
"I would be comfortable playing with him," Gasol said. "We played a few games during the preseason. I think it was pretty effective. I think people were pretty excited and we got good results from it, but we really never went back to it during the entire season. Like I said, we’re not the coach. We don’t make those decisions. We just do what we’re told and do our best when we’re out there. But I know it’s been a rough year for Chris because basically he only got continuity when I went out, or solid minutes, when I’ve been out and he’s put up a couple of pretty strong performances. So, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens."
Kaman averaged 14 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists while starting the last four games with Gasol out. On the season, the 11-year veteran is averaging 10.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists while playing in only 38 of the Lakers' 73 games.
D'Antoni said he would make his final determination on the rotation before the Blazers game and "hadn't even thought about" his plan for Kaman on Monday.
The coach stressed that his biggest priority has been finding playing time for younger big men like Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill, all of whom have a more likely chance of being with the Lakers next season and beyond than Kaman does.
"To me, now I might be wrong, but Chris is an established guy that has the game and is not going to improve," D'Antoni said. "Now, he’ll play well. But he is who he is and he’s going to be who he is next year and the year after, Pau is the same way. But Ryan and Robert can use these minutes to really get to be better. You don’t know what their ceiling is. That’s kind of the focus and the thought of why they need to hit the floor."
Beyond that, D'Antoni detailed how he feels like he cannot play all of those big men together during a single 48-minute game.
"It’s tough because when you do the math and if you’re going to play Pau 30 minutes and you’d like to play Robert, because he’s developing and all that, so even if you play Robert 10 minutes, which is nothing, that leaves 8 or 9 for Chris," D'Antoni said. "Now (Kaman) didn’t want to play that, he said he didn’t want to play that, so you go from there where you can find significant minutes which mean 20 to 25 minutes, well now you’re going to play them together.
"Now that’s going to knock Ryan out, or it’s going to knock Jordan Hill out, now if Jordan Hill’s not playing then we’re having the same discussion, 'Why isn’t Jordan Hill playing?' Then if Ryan isn’t playing, you got to be nuts. So it’s a matter of minutes, there’s only so many minutes so if everybody’s healthy and if they wan to play between 20 and 25 minutes, which in the NBA is kind of what you look for if you’re an established star you want to play 30 minutes, but let’s say 20-25, somebody’s got to pay the price."
Even though there are only nine games remaining in the season and the Lakers are already eliminated from postseason contention, Gasol acknowledged that playing alongside Kaman would be "better late than never."
D'Antoni didn't necessarily share that viewpoint.
"You can look at it 1,000 different ways," D'Antoni said. "It’s just the way the team is made up there’s not enough minutes to make everybody happy and we go through the process of ticking people off from time to time."