- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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A handful of players have seen what life is like on both ends of the Staples Center hallway in recent seasons, taking a turn playing for the Los Angeles Lakers after having previously played for the L.A. Clippers, or vice versa. Journeymen like Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom have done the double duty, to name a few. Lakers free-agent signee Chris Kaman is the latest name added to the group, but he's a bit different than the rest, having played the first eight years of his career with the Clippers before joining the Lakers two seasons later, making his ties to one of the franchises far deeper than his link to other.
Kaman recently sat down with ESPNLosAngeles.com to discuss playing for both professional basketball teams in L.A., the heralded 2003 draft class that he entered the league with and why he used to hate Kobe Bryant:
Can you talk me through the difference, just a week through officially, of being a Los Angeles Laker in this city versus being a Los Angeles Clipper?
That’s actually a good question. No one has really asked that yet. I think obviously when I went to the Clippers I was a rookie, so it took some getting used to, but my last year as a Clipper, I had a good groove. I knew everybody. I felt real comfortable.
I would say they do a decent job of taking care of their players. I went to Dallas, which everybody knows is one of the best, so I can't say the best but they do a good job of taking care of their players.
They've come a long ways since when I started and when I ended.
With the Lakers, they do a great job of taking care of their players. It's a first-rate organization. When teams have won like they have -- this team, the Celtics, the Mavericks, all the different teams that are successful like that -- I think there's something about them. The aura around the whole team and the organization is different.
Everything changes. Here, everything is a little bit more professional, I guess I would say is the word I would use. Without being disrespectful to the Clippers, I think this is a little bit more professional of an organization. Now, the Clippers have turned things around and I think with Doc [Rivers] there and the changes in some cast members, I think they're going to be pretty solid as well.
When you look at the 2003 draft class, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony are the guys who are brought up first, but your success as the No. 6 pick, Josh Howard's success early on in his career, etc. that's what makes the draft stand out so much versus 1996 or 1984. It's one thing to have 3-4 guys at the top, but what puts your draft in the conversation is that it goes deeper. Would you agree?
Those are some good draft classes though, you know? But there's some other guys that people don't even realize [from 2003]. Jarvis Hayes had a decent career. David West was in there. Josh Howard was in there. I was in there. Kirk Hinrich's in there. Nick Collison. Luke Ridnour. There's some guys that people don't realize, and there's some guys in the second round. There's a couple [other] guys -- [Marquis] Daniels had a solid first part of his career. Maurice Williams. There's other guys, I can't even think of them all, but if you look at the list it will be surprising to you how many good players that are in that draft class and guys that are still playing in this league and still getting it done.
So, I mean, it's hard to say. But, if you look at it, we've got LeBron who's won the MVP multiple times, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron and the Miami Heat won rings, two of them. Kobe's got five [rings], Ray Allen's got a few. I don't know. It's tough. That's a tough call. I think overall dominance, we got to wait and see what happens with LeBron and Wade and Bosh down there in Miami. If they get another ring this year, then what does that say? Where does that put them? Where does that put LeBron? I don't know.
When you think to '03, coming into the league, you knew the hype but …
I didn't know it would turn out as successful as it's turned out for all the guys in that draft class, but you know what? It's impressive. It really is. And it's not even done yet. I think the '96 one is kind of close to wrapping up. Steve's almost 40. Kobe's got a few years left still, I think, of good basketball. It's impressive that Kobe still plays and Nash as well. But their draft class was sweet. They had a really good time ... It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out, but I guess I would give the edge to my class just because I was in it.
Obviously you were in the same city as Kobe for a long time, but seeing him up close, being a teammate, how would you describe that experience so far?
I always hated him. When you play against a guy like him, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, you don't like them because they're so competitive. I respect that, but I don't like playing against them. But when you're on their team, it's a whole different story. You love the people. They're good guys.
Kobe, he's just been working hard trying to get himself ready. He comes to practice and he works his butt off. I respect that as well. I'm excited for him to play. I'm hoping sooner than later.
At what point do you think it would be appropriate for you to know your role, whether it would be starting or off the bench?
I don't know. That's a good question too because I'm sure there's some games where you play teams that have bigger lineups. Some teams run two big guys. Some teams run a big guy and a small guy, like if you go with the Knicks, they got [Tyson] Chandler and then they usually got Melo at the four, so obviously that's not a good game for me to be in the starting lineup unless they're willing to match up, or whatever.
I think coach, he's going to have a make a decision on the different games and different situations. I think there's some games that I'll benefit the team starting. But, I don't know what's going to happen. I could come off the bench or I could start. I've done both last year in Dallas.
You've been very complimentary of Pau Gasol in your comments to the press. Do you see the possibilities of you guys helping each other on the court together?
That's something that you could ask him, but from my perspective, I feel pretty comfortable just in the last few days playing with him. He's a great passer, a great play maker. He makes everybody around him better and those kind of players are hard to come by. I guess I would say, you never have to force anything when you're playing with Pau. It just kind of comes natural. He'll make easy plays and it makes everybody's jobs easier. If you ask the guards, I think they feel more comfortable with it as well. So, I think it will work well.
Going back to when you first signed with the team this summer, what was that story about your house?
I had a house when I lived with the Clippers in Manhattan Beach for five years. I got traded for Chris Paul in that whole deal and then I went to New Orleans and rented my house out for two years. Then someone called me a week before the Lakers called my agent and said, 'Hey, I want to buy your house.' I said, 'Fine. Done.' I signed all the paperwork. It went through. It was a quick close, like 15-20 days, and then the Lakers called me a week later. So, I was like, I guess I'm going to have to find a house now. So, we just rented a place.
And you spend most of your time in Michigan?
I do. I actually have a place in Illinois and a place in Michigan and I spend most of my time in Michigan and Illinois back and forth. We're trying to, me and my wife, we're trying to figure out where we're going to finish when I'm done playing, where I want to live at. We're still kind of working on that.
You're a 10-year veteran. You've seen a lot of coaches, a lot of teams with a lot of hype and expectations thinking back to the Baron Davis days. You've been on some teams like New Orleans where there wasn't much expected. Where do you think this group that you're on right now fits in that spectrum?
It's hard to tell right now, but I think we're going to be better than people think. I think we have a better team mentality than they had last year. I think the chemistry is going to better. I think guys really, truly want to be playing with each other and be in the same locker room with each other. It's not like, 'When can I get out of here?' I think that's going to help and I think we got a good, early start having all the guys here this summer for the most part. All that plays into it. And then obviously, when we get Kobe back, that's going to help us tenfold.