Last in a five-part series examining the re-tooled Dallas Mavericks position by position.
Over the last two-and-a-half seasons, there's been a lot of "best ever" labels tossed around for Mavs centers. When Brendan Haywood arrived in February 2010 and started putting up double-doubles with Erick Dampier injured, suddenly Haywood was the Mavs' best-ever center. That didn't last long because Tyson Chandler quickly seized the title and won a championship. But he left, and last season, Haywood's game exited stage left and then so did he last month via amnesty. Moments earlier, Dallas had come to terms on a one-year, $8-million deal for Chris Kaman, and without hesitation Kaman was being described, and actually quite accurately, as the Mavs' best-ever low-post scoring center. Hey, who can argue? His 13.1 points a game last season with the New Orleans Hornets would have been the highest scoring average from a Mavs center since, what, Antoine Walker was playing the 5 and finished the 2003-04 season averaging 14.0 points? And before that? Shawn Bradley in 1996-97 averaged 14.6 points but played in just 33 games. So let's just say that Kaman brings a proven low-post scoring threat, the ability to finish with both hands and to step out and hit the mid-range jumper like no one else Dirk Nowitzki has seen in his 14 seasons. Currently, though, Kaman doesn't have much company as a bona fide center and that can be scary considering his injury history. Power forward Elton Brand appears set to backup not only Nowitzki, but also Kaman, with lanky Brandan Wright possibly continuing to make the transition to center, and also rookie Bernard James looking to impact the rotation. Of course, if all had gone according to the Mavs' grand plan, Kaman would have been a one-year stop-gap, keeping the position warm for Dwight Howard. We finally now know as of Thursday night that Howard is now bound for L.A.
How it came together
Kaman was on stand-by with the Indiana Pacers had they not matched the maximum offer sheet center Roy Hibbert signed with the Portland Trail Blazers. Once Indiana matched, Kaman's top choices came down to the Blazers and Mavs. His relationship with Nowitzki, who convinced Kaman to join the German national team (Kaman's grandparents are German) that played in the 2008 Olympics, solidified his decision to take the one-year deal with Dallas. Brand, as explained in Thursday's look at power forward, was acquired with the highest bid in the amnesty process. James was the Mavs' 33rd pick overall in the June draft.
Scoring is the obvious answer here. How could it not? Kaman gives the Mavs' offense a different dimension than ever before, a true inside-out ability. Kaman can score it with either hand off nifty hooks and he's also not a bad passer out of the post, which should benefit Nowitzki and new outside bomber O.J. Mayo. Haywood didn't average better than 6.0 rebounds in either of the last two seasons, so even though Kaman's rebounding numbers are in a bit of a decline, he still should be an upgrade from Haywood as well as former backup big man Ian Mahinmi. Kaman doesn't always get the respect he deserves as a defender. He doesn't have great lateral foot speed and won't out-jump anyone, but he's positionally strong and averages 1.5 blocks a game during his career, a tick higher than that last season. ... Brand adds a competent veteran backup in the paint. He doesn't have the height desired at center, but he's a solid 254 points and has long arms that allow him to be a salty rim protector. ... James would seem to have a chance to get some time if he can show he can battle inside, block some shots and grab some rebounds. He had a pretty encouraging Las Vegas Summer League, finishing fifth in the league in rebounds at 9.0 a game.
Kaman has to prove he can stay healthy, a fact he readily acknowledges. Last season, the New Orleans Hornets held him out of games while they looked for a trade that never materialized. Starting in 2010-11 and going back four seasons, Kaman remained healthy only once in 2009-10, playing 76 games. In the other three seasons, he totaled 119 games. But in that healthy season, Kaman was an All-Star, averaging 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds on a Los Angeles Clippers team that went 29-53. ... Even if Kaman stays healthy, depth has to be a major concern considering the undersized Brand, the frail Wright and the rookie James are the reinforcements. The size issue will be problematic against a number of teams in the West, including the Lakers, Clippers and Grizzlies. Foot speed on the defensive end will also be a challenge for a group that should be helped out by quickness and solid defenders on the perimeter.