July 3, 2010

When players tumble to the floor, he invariably is in the middle of the pile. When a ball squirts loose, his body will be thrust in full pursuit. When an opponent flies full speed toward the basket, he charts an intersecting course in order to take the hit.

In a sport frequently compared with jazz for its improvisational, free-flowing and artistic nature, Chris Kramer is pure grunge. And he's hoping to follow his own beat into the NBA.

"As tough as nails," was the first thing out of Coach Jim O'Brien's mouth when asked about the former Purdue standout.

Which describes both Kramer's style and his challenge in cracking the Pacers' roster. A noted non-scorer in college (a career average of 6.4 points in four seasons with Purdue), Kramer was a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the first player in league history to make the all-defensive team four times.

But the Pacers are overloaded at the wing positions with veterans Danny Granger, Brandon Rush, Mike Dunleavy and Dahntay Jones joined by first-round pick Paul George and second-rounder Lance Stephenson. For Kramer, then, this experience is as much about impressing the other coaches in the Orlando Pro Summer League which starts Monday as it is about landing a job with the Pacers.

"I think he has to get with the right group that would really value the intensity and the hard-nosed attitude that he brings," said O'Brien. "It's just a matter of a team willing to spend the extra money to have a guy that's a 13th, 14th guy on a team that can bring a great deal of passion to it."

Kramer's professional role model is Bruce Bowen, who fashioned a 13-year NBA career on aggressive defense and the corner 3-pointer. He has the defensive intensity part handled but Kramer had a career 3-point percentage of .287 at Purdue and needs to prove he can knock down that shot regularly.

"(Bowen) played overseas, he wasn't on a very good team at the beginning but he just kept working, kept working, was able to knock down open threes in the corner and he could defend," Kramer said. "That's his spot and he did it very well. He had a great career in the NBA and that's something I'm trying to do, just get my way into this great league and then just try to be that defender and the guy that will knock down any open shot."

This is the time of year when tangibles rule. Prior to the draft, every possible measurement is acquired as players are dissected in the scouting process. Kramer's career, though, has been built on intangibles.

It never has been about how fast he can run or how high he can leap but rather the sacrifices he has been willing to make to succeed when matched up against more physically, tangibly, gifted players.

Those can be tough traits to exploit in the short-term crucible of a pre-draft workout or even a week of summer league games.

"I think I've done pretty well," Kramer said. "You're trying to find your niche on the team. I've got to do the things I've always done, play defense and facilitate the basketball and keep on playing hard and hopefully you'll find a way onto the court that way.

"You've got to go out there and be yourself. You can't put any more pressure on yourself or go out there and play tense or anything like that. You go out there and do what you do and if it comes down to it and they say, 'I'm sorry but you're not good enough to play in this league,' then at least you know what you've got to work on to try to get back in it next year."

Fast breaks … Second-round pick Magnum Rolle needed stitches to close a laceration on his head, the result of an inadvertent elbow from 6-11, 258-pound Darryl Watkins in Saturday's practice. He's listed as day-to-day but will travel to Orlando, where the Pacers open summer league play Monday against the Magic. … O'Brien was unable to attend the Saturday morning practice session, which was conducted by assistant Frank Vogel. … With 14 players on the roster, it's unlikely there will be any cuts before summer league games begin.

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