A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Blazers signing Chris Kaman: Somehow much worse than the Magic signing Ben Gordon

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A lot of people jumped on Ben Gordon’s contract with the Magic (2 years, 9 million with the 2nd year unguaranteed) as the WTF free agent signing of the summer so far. It was an inexplicable bad decision but I feel Portland giving Chris Kaman 2 years, 10 million (again, the 2nd year unguaranteed) was easily worse.

First, Kaman is effectively the C version of Gordon. He’s aging and inefficient offensively, very poor at defense and isn’t known as a veteran leader. It’s been understood for a few years by smart basketball people online Kaman and Gordon aren’t helping you win games.

But at least in the Magic’s case they’re probably tanking anyways. They were a 23-59 team who traded an all-star caliber guard in the East in Arron Afflalo, for the younger more erratic Evan Fournier. They also cut Jameer Nelson who was a stabilizing presence in the locker room. Afflalo and Nelson easily led the team in 3pt makes, despite their shooting the Magic ranked 21st in total 3 point makes for the season. At the same time they drafted Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon and are likely to play them over 30 minutes per game. Both players have shooting and spacing the floor as their biggest weakness. So at their perimeter positions the Magic’s floor spacing has gotten much worse. They ranked 29th in offense last year despite having Afflalo and Nelson’s shooting, replacing those minutes with Payton and Gordon more likely than not makes their offense even worse. The Magic did sign Channing Frye today who’s 3pt shooting and spacing should help in the frontcourt. In general due to the loss of Afflalo and likely giving major minutes to two rookies in Payton and Gordon, The 4.5 million they spent on Ben Gordon has less opportunity cost both because they were unlikely to win and because they were far under the salary floor. Enough that after the move if they wanted they could still make “salary dump for draft picks” deals with another team, like Utah absorbing Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins for 2 1sts. That becomes more difficult after signing Frye, but this decision isn’t related to whether signing Gordon was smart or not. As for Ben Gordon’s contribution to the team whether the Magic intend it or not (I wouldn’t rule out intent considering I’m convinced Sam Hinkie signed Byron Mullens to be his “tank secret weapon”), playing Gordon’s brand of ball stopping inefficient offense and negligent defense is likely to increase their loss column next year and get them a higher draft pick. By midway through the season if the Magic are poor again they’ll be happy to have Gordon’s loss-friendly contributions. The Ben Gordon contract certainly isn’t good, but it doesn’t hurt what they’re trying to achieve going forward either.

The Chris Kaman signing differs from this in a lot of ways. The Trail Blazers won 54 Gs last year and are on the precipice of contention. Their starting lineup of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez is one of the most complete in the league. They just need bench contributions. The MLE they spent on Chris Kaman was their big chance to improve their big weakness behind their starting lineup. Therefore it has a huge opportunity cost.

First, 5 million on Chris Kaman is an overpayment for a player little evidence suggests has helped teams win more than a replacement caliber player lately. Secondly, I just don’t see what Kaman does for Portland. The team ranked 2nd in offence and 16th in defense last year. Kaman is a poor defender so he should add to their weakness. The Blazers need more speed and athleticism on defense and Kaman won’t help there. Offensively Kaman’s biggest contribution is floor spacing at PF/C, but the Blazers already spaced the floor exceptionally well and have a much much better version of Kaman offensively in Aldridge. The Blazers succeed at ball moving and not turning the ball over (ranking 3rd lowest in TOV%), Kaman hasn’t passed the ball overly willingly and has been turnover prone. Also note that the Blazers style of play is modelled after Rick Carlisle’s Dallas 2011 Mavericks, with Lamarcus Aldridge in the place of 2011 Dirk, as the high post shooter/scorer who’s spacing the floor for his teammates. Of course, the Mavericks tried signing Chris Kaman to get value of his skill level in a new system… and it didn’t work. He used possessions inefficiently because of turning the ball over, didn’t pass the ball and didn’t play defense. So why would it work with a 2 years older Kaman on the Mavericks clone the Blazers?

My feeling on Kaman is if anything he’ll make the Blazers worse defensively and he’s as likely to hurt the Blazers offense as help it, by hurting their ball movement, efficiency and turning the ball over. Compare this to other MLE options like signing Thabo Sefolosha to help the Blazers wing defense off the bench, or signing Greivis Vasquez/Darren Collison to run the 2nd unit as a 6th man. To me the value of these signings compared to splurging on Kaman isn’t close.

But what makes the Kaman contract really insane is the timing. They signed him on July 3rd and made him one of the first MLE sized players signed. Why not wait? At the end of July and early August there’s usually free agents who’s agents oversold their client’s strength and now have to settle for a smaller contract than what they begun looking for. That’s when you can get players better than Kaman for 2.5-3 million a year. Signing Kaman for 5 million is already such an inefficient use of finances that it’s hard NOT to beat it efficiency wise later in the summer. By waiting the Blazers may have been able to end up with either 2 bench players as good as Kaman for the same 5 million price, or one player better than him for the full MLE. Either way, spending 5 million ASAP in free agency on a player who hasn’t made a winning impact in years, for a team who desperately needed to use its MLE right, is crazy.

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Written by jr.

July 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm

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