Robin Lopez, or “ROLO” as he’s affectionately called these days, became a fan favorite here in Portland almost overnight. Rip City loves its weirdos, and ROLO fits right in here with his unwieldy hair, his nerdist tendencies (comic books, video games, Disney collectibles, anything fantasy related), and his categorical goofiness. But more than anything, it was his all-around hustle on the court that endeared him to fans. That, and <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyluLjS55Hs)
Last season, Lopez was the defensive bulwark of a Trailblazers team that sorely needed it. They ranked among the bottom of the league in all the major defensive categories two seasons ago, and Lopez’s sturdy presence in the paint yielded substantial progress on that end. By most measures, it was the best season of his career, and he was in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award as he recorded career highs in rebounds (8.5) blocks (1.7) and assists (0.9), and even ended up breaking the franchise record for offensive rebounds in a single season (326). He also received the Maurice Lucas Award for community outreach, specifically the “Read Big” literacy campaign.
On twitter, Lopez is a bonafide and unabashed goofball, whether he’s drawing portraits of Emmy Rossum, Ingrid Bergman, and Zooey Deschanel (he’s actually pretty talented), taking selfies with his cat, watching Forrest Gump while weeping, or delivering staid opinions on the new Girl Meets World sitcom.
So naturally, everyone is expecting he and newcomer Chris “Caveman” Kaman to make strange bedfellows this season.
Like ROLO, the Caveman marches to the beat of his own drum. The former All-Star is a conservative Christian who grew up on a farm in Michigan and is a country boy to the core. He’s a big-game hunter, a card-carrying member of the NRA, and likes to smoke his own venison in his spare time. And then there’s this:
He might be a funny fit in the liberal mecca that is Portlandia, but he’s already more at home in close proximity to the Oregon wilderness than he probably ever was in Los Angeles. At training camp Monday, Kaman said he shot his first mule deer down near Baker City earlier this month and is looking forward to bagging an elk sometime in the near future. When he’s not posting pictures of himself wielding automatic weapons on social media, he’s liable to be impersonating Sasquatch or erecting medieval warfare contraptions.
Kaman has been trying (unsuccessfully) for the past 2-3 years to find the right fit with the right team and is coming off disappointing stints with the Los Angeles Lakers last year and the Dallas Mavericks the year prior.
It’s no secret that Kaman grew disgruntled under each of his two previous coaches – Mike D’Antoni and Rick Carlisle. During one stretch last season when Kaman was buried at the end of the Lakers’ bench, he claimed publicly that he and D’Antoni hadn’t spoken for several weeks.
After his season ended in Dallas in 2013, Kaman skipped his exit interview entirely, citing miscommunication with his coach about his role and the inevitability of his departure. It also bears mentioning that current Blazers GM Neil Olshey was the GM of the Clippers and responsible for shipping Kaman (and Eric Gordon) to New Orleans as part of the Chris Paul acquisition. Kaman has said that Olshey and then-coach Vinny Del Negro had both promised him he wouldn’t be traded prior to the transaction.
It remains to be seen whether Kaman will, at some point during the coming season, grow weary of his diminished role, but for now at least, he’s saying all the right things and seems willing to embrace the prospect of backing up Lopez off the bench.
“I feel great this year. It just never finishes that way, so I’m just hoping to stay positive, stay healthy, and stay in shape. I’m excited to get going,” Kaman said. “I feel comfortable, and I know what I’m going to have to do. There’s a few things that I’m gonna pick up and figure out as I go, and it’s just gonna take time. I’ve had three tough seasons in a row when I didn’t know what to anticipate, know what to expect. I’m happy to know now and understand what they expect of me and what I should be doing.”
The hope is that at least some of these concerns could be quelled by the bromance that appears to be blossoming between Kaman and the resident oddball he’ll spell throughout the season. Lopez, for his part, was effusive in his praise of the 12-year veteran’s game.
“I think we have a heck of a frontcourt rotation, top to bottom. Chris, the amazing thing about having him come off the bench, is that he’s a starting-caliber player still. He’s unbelievably versatile on the offensive end, and I think he’s very surprising defensively. He knows where to be on defense, and I think that’s huge for us.”
Their budding rapport off the court promises to be entertaining as well. Asked what he and Lopez’s conversations were going to be like in the locker room, this was Kaman’s (disarmingly deadpan) response:
“Well, that’s going to be an interesting one,” Kaman said. “I don’t know yet. I mean, we talked about his cat a little bit. So far, [I know] he has a cat. We’ve talked about that before. I told him he should bring it to the locker room and put his litter box right there because he always has to leave early to go home and feed it, so I was like ‘well, just bring it in. Celebrate together.’”
“They [the fans] are gonna love Chris,” Lopez said. “I already love Chris. I already loved Chris before I got to know him. Just the way he plays the game – the right way. He has fun doing it. I think it’s important to have a bit of levity around the league. He brings that in spades, and I think we’re both crazy in our own way, in different ways. He says crazy is crazy. I think we’re crazy in different ways, but I can see where he’s coming from because I really think we’re opposite ends of the crazy spectrum, but so far at opposite ends that it starts to loop back around to where we’re almost at the same point again.”
Will the Caveman help bolster the Blazers’ bench this season?
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