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Chris Kaman Taking Charge, Making Case for All-Star Selection

Jan 4, 2010 – 5:00 AM
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Chris Tomasson

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Chris KamanLOS ANGELES -- There's a nation other than the United States that could boast multiple NBA All-Stars at next summer's World Championships.

That would be Germany.

Wait a minute. There's Dirk Nowitzki and who else?

How about Chris Kaman?

Kaman, the Los Angeles Clippers center, stumbled into the Olympics in 2008 with Germany only because his great grandparents were born there. Kaman never had been to the country until traveling there just before the Olympics to be handed his jersey.

Now, with Germany having been named a wild-card entry into the World Championships, Kaman said he's ready to play in Turkey under one condition: Nowitzki, Dallas' star forward who carried the German flag in the Opening Ceremonies at the 2008 Olympics, must also commit.

"If he plays, I'm going to play,'' Kaman said in an interview with FanHouse. "I think that if we have Dirk it will give us a chance of winning and advancing to the later rounds of the Championships ... I'll base my decision on what Dirk does ... I want to play, but I also want to win, and the chances are a lot better if Dirk plays.''

Nowitzki is undecided, and it could be a while before he makes up his mind whether to play. But perhaps Kaman can work him over if he's on hand when the Mavericks play host in February to the All-Star Game.

It's a long shot, mainly due to the Clippers' less-than-stellar 14-18 record. But if Western Conference coaches seek to name a center for the All-Star team who actually starts at center, Kaman is the likely pick.

The starter almost certainly will be Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire, listed at center on the fan ballot even though he starts at power forward. For the backup spot, coaches could slide over a power forward such as the Lakers' Pau Gasol or San Antonio's Tim Duncan.

But, if a real center is to be named, it would be hard to go wrong with Kaman. He's leading all NBA centers with a scoring average of 20.3 points while grabbing 9.2 rebounds a night.

"Obviously, I would want (an All-Star berth),'' Kaman said. "I've got to just keep playing and, if the team comes up [an improved record], if I'm there, I'm there. If not, I'm not. I can't control it. I just have to keep playing hard.''

There have been no complaints recently in that department. In his past 10 games, Kaman has averaged 23.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

"If their record was better, I think more people would notice him,'' said Boston coach Doc Rivers, who watched Kaman score 27 points and grab 12 rebounds in the Clippers' 92-90 win over the Celtics on Dec. 27. "It's not, so people don't and that's the way it goes. But he's a terrific player and makes tough shots.''

But Kaman never has been this good of a player. In his first six seasons, Kaman never averaged more than 15.7 points. That came in 2007-08 when Kaman averaged 12.7 rebounds and looked to be on his way to being an upper-echelon big man.

Kaman, though, played in just 31 games last season due to foot problems, and averaged 12.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. So this season's scoring onslaught hardly was expected.

Then again, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy claims not to be surprised.

"I did expect him to,'' Dunleavy said about Kaman becoming a 20-point scorer. "I always thought he'd get to that point. It was just a matter of confidence. He's such a funny guy in a sense he always wants to fit in ... He doesn't want the focus a lot of times.''

Kaman too often was passing up open shots, often dribbling unnecessarily to try to get closer to the basket. Dunleavy stressed to Kaman he needs to take available jumpers.

"Yeah, sometimes I turn down open looks,'' Kaman said. "I want my teammates to be in involved in the game too. I don't want it to be one player. You can't win by yourself.''

Kaman got off to a great start. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week for first week in November when he averaged 24.3 points in three games.

Soon, though, it looked as if Kaman's start might have been a fluke. He had a stretch of 10 games in late November and early December when he only once scored more than 17 points and had games of eight and 10 points.

"I had a rough spell,'' Kaman said. "I was just kind of not feeling that great. I had a blood test and I had some deficiencies ... I just had to take some Vitamin D supplements.''

Vitamin D made everything A-OK. Since then, the 7-footer regularly has been putting up 20 points a night.

With forward Blake Griffin, the NBA's top draft pick, due back in mid to late January from a broken left kneecap, there is hope the Clippers really will set sail. Griffin would join Kaman and Marcus Camby to give Los Angeles a formidable trio of skyscrapers.

"Myself and Chris have been playing All-Star basketball all season long,'' Camby said. "With Blake coming back, hopefully it's not too late to salvage the rest of the season and try to sneak into the playoffs.''

Camby, averaging 11.4 rebounds and 2.16 blocks, is having a fine season, although it's rather ambitious to think he has any sort of All-Star shot. Interestingly, Camby was listed on the All-Star ballot at center while Kaman isn't on it at all.

So any votes from Germany for Kaman have to be the write-in variety. But it's not out of the question that once the coaches vote, Kaman's backup country could be celebrating having a backup center in the All-Star Game.

"I'm three generations removed,'' Kaman said of his German heritage. "But it's a great place. I really enjoyed my time there. I hope one more time I can see the country more.''

That might be possible next summer. Kaman just hopes Nowitzki will be available to serve as a tour guide while on the way to Turkey.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@fanhouse.com or on Twitter @christomasson
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