With the not unexpected news today that Chris Kaman is likely done for the season with a badly sprained ankle there are several depressing conclusions. Obviously it means that we will not see the new and improved Kaman 2.0 play alongside Elton Brand until the 2008 pre-season. And while it matters little to this long-lost season itself, the psychological boost of having those two imposing low post players together might have been significant going into the off-season. Perhaps the biggest problem is that it just gives everyone involved one final excuse - "well, we never had our team, all season long." It's true. It's completely true. And hopefully some day we'll see what this team can do without an excuse. Some day.
Speaking of excuses, this injury also puts an exclamation point on the stat I've been keeping on and off all season - the record in games with their top 6 players (I'm adding Thornton to the list). The last time I tallied it up was the All Star Break. They were 7 wins and 7 losses in 14 full Generic strength games as of that time. They won the first game after the break to move to 8-7. (Consider also that the 8-7 mark includes last second losses to Dallas and Washington.)
Now, I've struggled with how to count the games since the All Star break without Sam Cassell. Obviously, they were played without one of their top 6 players. And while it wasn't due to an injury to Cassell, you could argue that the buyout is a byproduct of injuries in general. No matter though. Ignoring Cassell, injuries to Kaman and Thomas have impacted all but four games since the All Star break. The Clippers are 2-2 in those 4.
So, although the sample size is pitifully small, you can make an argument that the Clippers are adding Elton Brand, Shaun Livingston and a lottery pick to a team that played .500 ball when they were otherwise healthy. That and $3.65 will get you a triple grande non-fat latte at the Starbucks.
But if Kaman has truly played in his final game of the season, it also allows us to take a complete look back at his break out year.
I won't repeat everything I've said about him in the past. If you like, you can re-read the full-blown paean to the wonder that was the early season Kaman. Or you can review the now prescient hand-wringing I was doing at the All Star break. And because it's a subject everyone is interested in, I've written various Kaman recaps for other blogs as well.
Kaman's season breaks very nicely into two parts. The first 39 games of the season he started all 39 games the Clippers played, averaging 17 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. He was, simply put, the third best center in the league after Dwight Howard and Yao Ming. Period. And he's had one problem or another ever since.
He missed his first game of the season on Jan. 26th, resting a bruised shin against Memphis. A couple days later, he came down with the stomach flu from hell and missed the next four games. And he's had an in again out again relationship with the roster for over two months:
- Jan. 26 - 1 game missed - shin
- Jan. 28 thru Feb. 2 - 4 games missed - flu
- Feb. 4 thru Feb. 13 - 6 games played - weakened by the flu (lost 15 pounds)
- Feb. 14 thru Feb. 19 - All Star break
- Feb. 20, Feb. 22 - 2 games played with a different shin problem
- Feb. 23 thru Feb. 29 - 4 games missed with lower back pain (probably caused by playing with the sore shin)
- Mar. 1 thru Mar. 8 - 5 games played on restricted minutes to avoid a recurrence of back trouble
- Mar. 10 thru Mar. 25 - 9 games missed with a recurrence of back trouble - d'oh!
- Mar. 26 thru Mar. 29 - 3 games back with restricted minutes
- Mar. 31 - sprained ankle, out for final 8 games of season.
The best news is, I can see no reason to expect anything less than new Kaman next season. The illness and injuries and their effects clearly diminished his play in the second half of the season. But he was still very, very good. Nor is there much reason to believe that he's suddenly injury-prone. There are 18 feet you can step on every minute of every NBA game, and sometimes it happens and you roll your ankle. It doesn't mean it's going to happen again. And certainly the flu is not anything to fear in the future. Back trouble is a little dicier, but proper core conditioning should be able to mitigate that (at least that's what my doctor tells me). Chris probably needs to be smarter about his body - the clear implication is that he tried to play through pain on two separate occasions (first with the shin injury and later with the back) which resulted in more serious problems. He needs to listen to his body, and take a game or two off so that he doesn't have to take 10 off.
The Clippers are 2-16 in the 18 games Kaman has missed this season. That makes them 20-36 in the 56 games he's played, despite all the other injuries - a 29 win pace on a team that was predicted to win 20. The simple fact of the matter is, Kaman is very, very good, and a team with Elton Brand and Chris Kaman has a chance to be a good team, regardless of who you put with them.
But we'll have to wait a little longer before we see that team.