Chris Kaman, the 6th pick from the 2003 NBA Draft. The Clippers curse extended to draft positioning that year: the 5 players taken ahead of Kaman were LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. Aside from the bust that Darko became, the rest of the top 5 will likely end up in the Hall of Fame. At 6, however, Kaman was almost certainly the right choice: he went on to be a quality starter and All-Star center as a Clipper, where the rest of the players from that draft class who carved out long careers were mostly role players, with the exception of David West (pick 18).
Kaman played his first eight seasons with the Clippers, spanning from a time well before the Sam Cassell-era playoffs and ending well after them. He totaled 493 games and 425 starts in the red, white, and blue. I think it's time to add to those totals. Now, Cole Aldrich is clearly a superior player to Kaman. He's younger, better on both ends, and more reliable to stay healthy. Those reasons are why, even though I'm rooting for the Clippers to be able to retain Cole, I expect him to be gone, likely to a contract paying somewhere in the range of $24 million over three years.
Now, if the Clippers are not going to be using their mid-level exception on Cole Aldrich, they should almost definitely use it either on a small forward or on a big man who can play both positions, leaving the need for the Clippers to add another center for the league minimum, either to play on the second unit or provide depth. Chris Kaman might be the best buy-low candidate for that spot this summer.
Despite having a solid year as a backup center for the Trail Blazers two years ago, Kaman found himself out of the rotation for Portland this year as they shifted their focus towards developing their younger big men. With a logjam of frontcourt potential featuring Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh, and Ed Davis (and Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu stealing small-ball minutes), it's easy to see how Kaman only appeared in 16 games for an average of 7 minutes a night. The year before, however, he played 19 minutes a night in 74 games, averaging 8.6 points and 6.5 rebounds (16.4/12.5 per 36). If he could return to that level of production, or something near it, for a league minimum or bi-annual contract, he would be a remarkable value signing for the Clippers.
Kaman's mid-range shot developed over his career, and he maintained it at least through the 14-15 season, where he shot 46% from 10-16 feet and 44% from 16 feet and out. His shooting sample sizes are unreliable but we saw him comfortably take and make at least one in the first round against the Clippers. Despite lacking high-level athleticism, the freshly-turned 34-year-old was a good defender and shot blocker as a Clipper and still knows how to use his frame in the post and on help defense.
I joked with our friends at Blazer's Edge that when Chris Kaman checked into the series against the Clippers this year, our fanbase enjoyed his play far more than theirs did. I know that we have a lot of newer Clippers fans who might not remember or appreciate Kaman's time as a Clipper, or even know that his contract was the biggest piece of salary moved in the Chris Paul trade, but for those of us who have been around, there are a lot of fond memories for the big guy. Of course we complained about his shortcomings, as he's remarkably turnover-prone for a big man and he tends to flip up and miss close layups like no other 7-footer in the world, but he was a big part of an exciting Clippers playoff run, and a long-time loyal Clipper.
Known best for his long, stringy hair, but not looking any less strange bald, he's always going to be one of the quirkiest players in the league. I remember stories from his first Clippers stint where he would daily solve Rubix cubes in the dark as a kind of meditation practice. Cole Aldrich has to be a priority for the Clippers, but assuming that he isn't retainable, it's time for Chris to come home, for reasons both sentimental and basketball.
Not to mention that the Clippers could really use some beard power. It's been a long time since Brian Skinner's goatee.