LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Kaman entered Sunday night's Game 1 of the playoff series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers for the first time, there was 9:01 left and Portland trailed by 18 points. When Kaman scored on a driving layup less than a minute later, the question you had to ponder was simply, "Where has this guy been?"
Not just in this game, but all season? Where, exactly, has he been?
Last season, Kaman was a key reserve for Portland, averaging six and a half rebounds and eight and a half points in 74 games. This season, Kaman appeared in just 16 regular-season games. Where has this man been?
Sitting on the end of the bench, caught in a collision between player development and trying to win... with development the constant winner. And Kaman has known all along it would be this way.
"I met with Neil (Olshey) after he found out that LaMarcus wasn't coming back," Kaman said Monday. "At that point I thought they weren't going to bring anybody back from last year. Neil told me it was going to be a development stage for the franchise. I thought they were planning on going young. And so Neil said, 'I want you to be a leader and a veteran and help when we need help.' He said he wasn't even going to guarantee they'd keep me. He said if they had a chance to get a young player they would. He told Steve Blake the same thing.
"So I told him I wanted to come back. I wanted to be a part of something. I like what we had as a franchise and I liked what we had as a group of guys. And then we got even some better people than what we had already. We have a really good group of people here. Not just players, but people, in general. They're a good group of guys. That's hard to find. In my 13 years in the league I haven't been on a team that's this close. Not even close. Most of the time you have a couple of knuckleheads who turn guys the wrong way."
That said, it's not as if Kaman is 40 years old and completely washed up as a player. He can still play.
"I just turned 34 and I feel really good," he said. "I've worked really hard to stay in shape the best I can -- lift and run and shoot. I've tried to be as professional as I can. I try to help when I'm needed -- and sometimes where I'm not needed. I'll be the first one to say, it's hard to sit there and watch because I'm competitive and I want to play and perform. But at this time I have to accept my role and do what I'm asked to do."
I understand that. This season has been about development from the first day of training camp. But then the wins started coming and the playoffs became a very real possibility. The Trail Blazers didn't flinch or shy away from that opportunity -- they went all in. Except Kaman didn't get thrown into that mix. He was still sitting there on the bench.
Even when Meyers Leonard went down with season-ending shoulder surgery and the team one big short of a full complement, he didn't get into the rotation.
And then when you see Kaman enter a playoff game -- admittedly after the issue was pretty much decided -- and have an impact at both ends of the floor, you had to wonder why he was seemingly cast aside so easily.
This man isn't intimidated and he's smart enough to know how to handle situations on offense and defense. Veteran players pay big dividends in the postseason.
"I figure in 13 years you're going to know what's what," he said with a laugh. "I'm not going to save the day. I'm not the savior -- don't go there. I know how to play well enough to know what I can and can't do. I try to stay within my game."
Will he play more as the series continues?
"I don't know," he said. "I thought we did a good job in the first half with the lineups we had. And that's with 'Mo' having three fouls. If we can keep Mo out of foul trouble, we have a good matchup with him. I guess I think Stotts will probably have a conversation with me and we'll go over things. You just never know. I don't care, I'm ready to do whatever I'm asked to do, as I have all year. It's not new for me."
Ever the team guy, Kaman worries about how he'd do in extended duty, given the shortened season he's played.
"My only issue if I play is I'm more worried about hurting the team than helping them, to be honest, in the sense that I haven't played this year," he said. "I challenge anybody to not play all year and try to stay in shape. It's not easy. I don't want to mess the team up. They've played really well the last 20 games with that lineup and I don't want to hurt that. I hesitate to try to do too much.
"When I'm out there I want to stay within my game. When I'm open, I'll shoot it but I don't want to shoot too much. I just want to make the play, whatever has to be done. I'll take my fouls wisely and make them feel every foul I put out there."
There aren't many Chris Kamans left in the NBA. And that's too bad.