August 10, 2008 12:35 AM
Chris Kaman is happy, but wonders what Nuggets are doing
By Chris Tomasson
BEIJING _ Clippers big man Chris Kaman hasn't been getting a free pass on his decision to play for the German Olympic team. But he'll take a free Marcus Camby.
The Clippers acquired Camby from the Nuggets last month, giving up merely the right to swap 2010 second-round picks. Kaman is elated by the move.
"It's great,'' Kaman, who will play center while Camby is the Clippers power forward, said after Germany beat Angola 95-66 Sunday in an Olympic opener. "I'm excited. I think he's going to be one of the great defensive players in the NBA.
"I don't understand what the Nuggets are doing. They're trying to clear (salary-cap) room or something. I don't know. I don't get it. He's got a great value, I think. He's under $10 million (base salary for each of the next) two years.... I think me and him is a great defensive combination around the league.''
A lot of people were wondering what Kaman was doing when he decided to play for Germany in the Olympics. He's didn't speak a word of German, and he only had been to the country changing planes in the airport.
But Kaman was eligible because his great grandparents were from Germany before emigrating to the U.S. Even Kaman's father had reservations about him playing.
"My dad is kind of negative, (saying), 'You're not German, you're American,''' said Kaman, who scored 24 points for the Germans in the opener while teammate Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas star, added 23. "I had to get in his face a little.''
His employer also wasn't happy. With Kaman recovering from an ankle injury sustained late last season, he said the Clippers didn't want him to play.
"The Clippers made it very difficult for me to go over here, with the insurance, with them not wanting me to go,'' Kaman said. "I was a little disappointed in that at the time with the way they handled stuff. They lied to me a couple of times.''
Kaman declined to say in what manner the Clippers lied. But he said he's now on better terms with them.
By joining Germany, Kaman never can play for Team USA. He said he doesn't have any immediate regrets, but doesn't deny he could have some down the road.
"I still have citizenship in the United States, so it's not like I'm a traitor,'' Kaman said.
Of people calling him one, Kaman said, "People are going to hate you no matter what you do. People hate Kobe Bryant and he's the best player in the world.''
Kaman is in a similar situation as former Colorado State star Becky Hammon, who is playing for the Russian women's team in the Olympics. But Hammon has no blood ties to Russia, although she has signed a contract to play there.
"People are saying a lot of negative things,'' said Kaman, who never has met Hammon. "It's the same thing with (Hammon). We just want to play basketball.''
Kaman said it's always been his dream to play in the Olympics. When he wasn't being courted by Team USA, he joined forces with Germany after learning earlier this year he would be eligible.
"How many times can you tell your grandkids you played in the Olympics?'' Kaman said.
Helping Kaman make the team was Nowitzki. It took four months for Kaman to get his German passport, and he finally got it last month, just before the team began qualifying play in Greece for one of the final three Olympics spots.
Kaman is taking a crash course in German. Even though all of his teammates speak English, Kaman said it "bugs'' him they all talk German on the bus, so he just puts on his headphones.
Nevertheless, Kaman is doing what he can to get into the Olympic spirit. He said he shaved Olympic rings in the hair of three teammates, including Nowitzki.
Whether Kaman will continue as the team barber remains to be seen. He said he's willing to play for Germany in next year's European Championships, but only if Nowitzki also plays, and that is far from a certainty.
For now, though, Kaman has plenty of work ahead. He's got the Olympics and next season with the Clippers, when Camby will replace the departed Elton Brand as the big man flanking Kaman.