Kaman searching for lost opportunity

NEW YORK -- For the second straight season, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni is dealing with a former All-Star on his bench struggling to accept the coach's decision not to play him.

Last season, things got so bad between D'Antoni and Antawn Jamison that the coach and player got into a verbal spat on the sidelines during a road game in Houston and Jamison aired his grievances through the media. This season, it's Chris Kaman feeling like the odd man out, but doing his best to be diplomatic about it.

Before Kaman received his fourth straight DNP in Wednesday's 99-94 win over the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers' center said not only was he over the back injury he recently suffered in practice, he was cleared to play in the Lakers' 116-111 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday but D'Antoni did not call his number.

"I was actually good last game, I just couldn't get in there, I guess," Kaman said. "I don't know. I'm ready to go."

The 11-year veteran is averaging 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds this season and started three games for L.A., however he had already begun to find himself on the outskirts of D'Antoni's rotation before the back injury.

Kaman played only six minutes in his most recent game action -- a 114-99 win over the Detroit Pistons -- going 1-for-4 from the field for two points to go with one rebound off the bench, while Jordan Hill put up career highs in points (24) and rebounds (17) in 36 minutes as the starter alongside Pau Gasol.

This isn't the first time Kaman has found himself searching for his role in his first season with the Lakers. The 11-year veteran performed well in the preseason before coming down with salmonella poisoning during the team's trip to China, causing him to miss 10 days of training camp and lose his spot in the starting lineup to Shawne Williams when the regular season opened.

"I thought I was playing pretty well before I got sick and then I come back and things are kind of changed for me," Kaman said. "I didn't plan on getting sick, it just happened. And then at the start of the regular season I thought I played pretty well and then we change all the lineups around."

Kaman spoke up after the Lakers' 105-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 3, clamoring for a shot to play alongside fellow big man Gasol on the court at the same time, a notion Gasol supported.

D'Antoni has adopted a bigger lineup, but it has been Gasol and Hill, not Gasol and Kaman, getting the minutes together.

"We've been up and down a little bit, but lately we've been up so I don't have anything to really complain about," Kaman said. "I obviously would like to play, but it's not in my control. I'm doing everything I can do. I'm trying to get ready and keep myself in good shape and do the extra work I'm supposed to and just be positive because things can change at any time."

D'Antoni has not discussed the decision with Kaman.

"I haven't had any conversations about it," Kaman said. "I just kind of keep going with it however it goes. I don't know, what am I going to say? 'Play me more' or 'Let me play'? I mean, if he wants to play me, he'll play me. He knows what I can do. Maybe he doesn't know what I can do. I don't know.

"I think he’s just kind of going with what's been working the last four or five games. We've got some good wins and guys have been playing pretty well. We've been moving the ball. It's just hard to say. I'm not in his head. I don't know. It's obviously frustrating for me, but I'm just going to keep being positive and if I got to be a cheerleader, I'll be a cheerleader. If I have to be helpful in practice, I'll be helpful in practice. I've been in this league long enough to know what I'm capable of and how I can help the team if given the opportunity."

Hill, who went just 1-for-9 against Brooklyn (albeit while grabbing 12 rebounds) has had his playing time reduced in the past two games.

"Maybe we're playing him too many minutes," D'Antoni said of Hill before the game. "Maybe he can't go those many minutes. We got to figure that out."

D'Antoni unexpectedly gave eight of Hill's normal minutes to Robert Sacre on Wednesday after Sacre had appeared in only three of the Lakers' first 15 games.

"He can give us something that we need," D'Antoni said of Sacre, who collected one rebound, one block and two points during his short stint. "He gives us great interior defense. He's a big body. He's worked his behind off and he's getting more athletic. We've been talking about it for two weeks -- he can play. I've got to have enough courage to go ahead and [play him] and he earned to play again."

Kaman was sure to not peg himself against any of his teammates who are playing ahead of him.

"I'm not trying to steal nobody's minutes," Kaman said. "That's not my thing. I can't conscientiously go to Coach and say, 'Oh, I deserve to play over someone else or someone else.' I can't do that because Jordan has been playing really well and Pau has actually picked up his game his last 3-4 games. I'm just looking for opportunities. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I can't control that kind of stuff."

Kaman, who signed a one-year deal with the Lakers during the offseason worth about $3.2 million, said being benched was not what he envisioned when he joined the team.

"I was told certain things, but, it doesn't always work out that way," Kaman said. "I don't know if anybody anticipated Jordan to have the season that he's having so far, so I think the expectations were a little bit different for him and myself. I obviously knew what Pau was going to give them. He's been giving them that for years and so that spot's not something that's going to be available. That's his position, his minutes and he deserves that.

"Jordan has been playing awesome. He really has. He's been showing people the rebounding he has and the different things -- a guy diving to the basket full speed, on the rim. So, I'm really impressed with Jordan. I can't really say anything negative about him. But, it's tough. I came here for a reason and I want the opportunity to fulfill that. I can't control that and I just got to try to get back in better shape and I kind of got knocked down by the salmonella poisoning and the back, so I just kind of need to get back in the swing of things."

Asked about Kaman's status before the game, D'Antoni said he thought the 7-footer's back had healed but couldn't promise any playing time.

"We have a certain rotation and certain guys are not going to find a whole lot of minutes," D'Antoni said. "That makes it tough to get everybody in there."