I meet too many kids who despise used toys. My Hot Wheels showed damage, but they got the job done.
The same truth applies to NBA big men in their 30s. The mileage on athletes’ bodies can be offset by greater familiarity with NBA tricks and schemes. The accumulated wisdom of Elton Brand and Chris Kaman attracted the attention of the Dallas Mavericks, who have failed to replace Tyson Chandler’s towering presence. Brand and Kaman, 33 and 30 years old respectively, are slowing down in a young man’s sport, but they hold a wild card. The duo banged low together at an All-Star level with the Los Angeles Clippers for five seasons, and bring invaluable experience to the Mavericks. More importantly, their styles of play will mesh with the current roster, and ease the pressure off Dirk Nowitzki to carry the squad on another playoff run.
Los Angeles traded Brian Skinner and Tyson Chandler for Brand in 2001, and drafted Kaman sixth overall in 2003. Brand, the first overall selection in 1999, became the face of the Clippers franchise while he averaged 20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. Kaman faced a learning curve, but developed into a two-way, double-double threat, and possesses career highs of 18.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks over a season.
The talent and leadership of Brand and Kaman was rarely reflected in the Clippers’ win-loss column, due to the roster’s lethal recipe of careless turnovers, poor shot selection and lethargic perimeter defense. However, in 2005 the Clippers outperformed the neighboring Lakers using the core of Brand, Kaman, Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley, on their way to the Western Conference Semifinals. The team would never recapture its magic, and Brand ruptured his Achilles Tendon in 2007, raising doubts regarding the direction of the club.
During the summer of 2008, Brand opted out of the final year of his contract and signed a five year deal worth nearly $80 million with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Clippers tapped Kaman as the primary post scorer, until Blake Griffin’s arrival.
Brand was a shell of his former self as injuries decimated his career. He struggled in coach Tony DiLeo’s up-tempo offense, and a bum shoulder ended his first season in Philadelphia after 29 games. Brand’s play failed to improve under the coaching of Eddie Jordon, but he found a patient supporter in successor Doug Collins. Revitalized, the fallen star experienced a mini-renaissance in 2010, averaging 15 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 51.2%. Brand’s production dropped the next year, but this was by design, as Collins attempted to reduce his scoring load.
Following Brand’s departure, Kaman proved his strong play was not a byproduct of his buddy’s presence. With new freedom on offense, the center remained a threat on both sides of the court, and appeared to be a positive influence. Unfortunately, foot and ankle problems derailed his 2008 and 2010 campaigns. In 2011, the Clippers dealt Kaman to the New Orleans Hornets in the blockbuster trade for Chris Paul, and he continued to battle injuries in the Big Easy. As he entered free agency, Kaman’s reliability came into question.
Several teams had interest in signing Kaman, but he accepted a one year, $8 million make-good pact with the Mavericks. Two days later, Dallas placed the winning amnesty bid on Brand, who was cut loose by the 76ers. Dallas will pay Brand $2.1 million out the $18.2 million he is owed on the last year of his deal. (Philadelphia made the move for immediate salary cap flexibility.)
While folks like Bill Simmons see Brand and Kaman as damaged goods, as their market prices suggest, Dallas acquired two talented bigs hungry to reclaim their past glory. Kaman, listed at 7’ and 265 pounds, will start at center and receive 30 to 35 minutes per game. His ability to attack the basket with both hands is a major plus, and he can stretch the defense with a decent mid-range jumper. Kaman is a solid rebounder, and an above-average post defender, but struggles to stop pick-and-rolls.
As for Brand, the Achilles injury sapped his explosiveness, but he can still be an asset playing 25 minutes a night. The power forward is 6’8”, but he possesses a 7’5” wingspan, which makes him a better protector of the rim than a majority of seven footers. Brand still has his strength and can execute a handful of post moves, and his jump shot continues to be a factor, connecting on 45% from mid-range last season (according to 82games.com.) He will spell Nowitzki and Kaman off the bench.
Consider the reality that Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi logged significant minutes for the Dallas frontcourt last season, and it’s hard to believe that Brand and Kaman will not upgrade the roster. Mahinmi was the Mavericks’ go-to option in the low post, and the team miraculously crawled into the seventh playoff seed. Without injury, Brand and Kaman will collect their buckets without the stress of being the primary option. The addition of the Clipper brothers will extend the shelf life of Nowitzki, who will focus on offense and allow the two to stay low. Brand and Kaman’s rebounding will also aid the Mavericks’ dismal second-chance opportunities. Dallas felt the loss of Tyson Chandler immensely when the team fell to 27th in the league in total offensive rebounds. Along with Brendan Wright and rookie Bernard James, the imported size will let the club match up against enormous Laker, Grizzly and Jazz frontcourts, while opening space on the perimeter for shooters (Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo) and drivers (Darren Collison, Shawn Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois.)
Dallas faces a transition period to assimilate their new pieces, but coach Rich Carlisle and his staff are among the best in the league, and most definitely welcome the challenge. The Mavericks are underdogs in the West, as Los Angeles (both), San Antonio and Oklahoma City are title contenders. But even as a franchise that completely overhauled its rotation, Dallas will not be participating in the lottery. The years of experience Elton Brand and Chris Kaman provide will share comfort with the Mavericks’ veterans. The former Los Angeles Clippers may have seen better days, but there’s still gas in their tanks.