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The Camby 'Trade'

Let's start with a little historical perspective.  Back in December 2006, I was certainly on board with the idea of the Clippers trading for Allen Iverson.  I was not on board with including Livingston in the deal, which apparently would have gotten it done.  Obviously no one could have known what was going to happen to Shaun's erstwhile knee.  But we can now look at the downside of an Iverson trade.

The Nuggets have won exactly one playoff game in two seasons with Allen Iverson.  That's exactly how many they won against the Clippers the season before.  And because they have an owner who is not willing to pay the luxury tax indefinitely (certainly not while going 1-8 in the playoffs), they have now decided to give away an incredibly productive player.  It's a cautionary tale.  Whereas it might be nice to have a Mark Cuban or a James Dolan in charge, willing to remain above the luxury tax threshold indefinitely, that is certainly not the norm.  For 28 teams (even the Lakers) the luxury tax threshold serves as a firm cap, if not a hard cap.  Teams may stray above it for a season or two, but eventually they will do what is necessary to avoid it.

As I pointed out in May, the Nuggets cap situation was pretty dire.  That became even more obvious in June when they dealt away their first round pick for cash, despite the fact that they are pretty desperate for an infusion of young talent on that team.  Worse still, they were saddled with a slew of untradeable contracts.  The Camby contract looked downright tasty compared to those of Iverson, Nene and Kenyon Martin.  So although there were a few rumors floating around about dealing Carmelo Anthony, at the end of the day they weren't going to do that, and moving Camby remained the only way they could shed significant salary.

Having said all of that I am shocked - SHOCKED - that they could not get more in return than a swap of second round picks.  Let's be clear - this is as close to trading for nothing as it comes in the NBA.  He led the NBA in blocked shots AND was second in rebounding last season.  I know he's 34, but did I mention that he led the NBA in blocked shots AND was second in rebounding last season?  That occurred when he was 33.  He's really shown no sign of dropping off as he's entered NBA old age.  So, yeah, he's getting up there in years.  But still, there's no concrete reason to expect that he's ready for a significant decline.

Compare this situation to Ben Wallace.  I guess this is in some ways the worst case scenario for the Clippers, since Wallace's productivity has fallen off a cliff.  But that had already begun when he signed in Chicago for 4/$60M in 2006.  Big Ben built his reputation as the best rebounder and shot blocker in the league, but in his final season in Detroit he was fifth in rebounding and ninth in blocks.  Respectable, but not game-changing.  (By the way, you'll notice a guy named Camby ahead of him at that time, before Wallace signed his monster deal, and of course he's far ahead of him now).   When you chart his decline from prior years, you could see that the 31 year old (at the time) Ben Wallace was well on his way to becoming the 33 year old Ben Wallace.  By contrast, for whatever reason, the 33 year old Marcus Camby was better than almost any other version that came before, averaging career-highs in rebounding and blocks last season.

Plenty has been written here about what a terrific find this is for the Clippers, and I can only agree.  For Citizen John R, an acolyte of Wages of Wins and Win Score, it's a grand slam home run.  I have my issues with WoW, but it's difficult to see how this isn't a major coup.  As is often the case, all of the names we were talking about last week turned out NOT to be the target that was eventually acquired.  And by the way, kudos to citizen bballanalyst who was the only one thinking along these lines before the deal was announced.  At any rate, Camby or Randolph?  No brainer.  Camby or Okafor?  Also a no brainer, partly because the commitment for Camby is for a mere two seasons.  A guy like Josh Smith might have provided a high reward, but at a much higher risk.  Remember that it is a combination of bad contracts, including those to Nene and KMart, that forced the Nuggets into this salary dump.  Josh Smith has the potential to be a great player in this league.  And Josh Smith at 5/$70 has the potential to be a bad, bad contract in a couple seasons.

One thing that I have not seen mentioned is the unique potential of a Camby-Kaman front line.  Based on per game averages (and certainly Kaman's injuries make this less valid, but still), these are two of the top three rebounders in the NBA, and two of the top three shot blockers.  I was excited last season with the emergence of Kaman 2.0 to contemplate the idea of a couple of top ten rebounder/shot blockers in the same Clipper lineup.  A couple of top threes?  It's literally never happened.  The combination of David Robinson and Tim Duncan is a close as anyone's ever gotten, and those teams did OK.

I'm not suggesting that Kaman-Camby equals Robinson-Duncan.  Obviously Robinson and Duncan were also terrific scorers in addition to being shot blockers and rebounders.  But I am saying, this is a unique pairing and it's hard to predict what will happen.

I am hoping that MDsr is planning to build his entire defensive approach around this duo.  Because having Kaman and Camby together allows a team to behave very, very differently than they would otherwise.  The perimeter defenders can apply ball-pressure and take lots of chances, knowing full well that there simply are no lanes to the basket with both of those beasts defending the rim.  Hell, there could be a 1-2-2 zone in the Clippers' future that would be next to impossible to beat.  And once the shot goes up, there are three Clippers who can basically ignore any rebounding responsibilities and start heading out on the fast break, because either Kaman or Camby has a pretty good chance at grabbing the board.  As for the possibility that teams will go small and neutralize the Clipper giants, I suppose it could happen.  But bear in mind that neither of these guys are your typical lumbering lummoxes.  When Kaman and Brand played together, it was Kaman, not Brand, who defended against Dirk Nowitzki.  Short of putting five three point shooters on the floor and going bombs away, I'm not real concerned about major matchup problems.  (Then again, it's only July.)

Obviously the pairing is more problematic on the offensive end, but I hope and pray that the Clippers commit to playing up tempo.  Fast breaks begin with defensive rebounds, so there's your first check mark.  The next thing is a point guard to push the tempo.  Check again.  Al Thonton and Eric Gordon just happen to be the best athletes from each of the last two drafts, so it would seem there are players to fill lanes.  As I've pointed out in the past and MDsr recently said, Kaman is among the fastest seven footers in the league.  Camby has been playing in the fastest paced offense in the league.  Running is clearly the way to score for this team.  (Unfortunately, I remain somewhat skeptical that control freak MDsr, he of the perfectly-pointy-pocket-puff, will embrace a high paced offense.)  In the half court, Kaman proved last season that he commands a double team every time he gets the ball in the post.  Camby was more or less a perimeter player in Denver, and is more than capable of hitting a 17 footer.  He's also an extremely gifted passer, an aspect of his game that is underappreciated.  The offense will necessarily be very different, if only because Davis and Thornton will become options 1 and 2.  But it appears to be a dangerous team on paper, especially if Thomas, Mobley and Gordon can hit from the perimeter when they are on the floor.

Are there concerns?  Well, of course there are.  Of the Clippers three best players, two have been quite injury-prone in their careers (despite having enjoyed good health recently), and the third missed 28 games last season.  And the Clippers are committed to paying $20M to a 34 year old at this point - not exactly a youth movement.

But on closer inspection, it really is a youth movement, but one that allows for the possibility of significant success in the interim.  Camby, Mobley and Thomas and $26M in salary attached to them all drop off the Clippers books in summer 2010.  Mobley's replacement is a 19 year old named Eric Gordon.  Camby's is a 19 year old named DeAndre Jordan.  Are Gordon and Jordan locks for stardom in the NBA?  Certainly not.  But they both have a chance to be good, and they both have a starting job waiting for them in two seasons if they're ready for it (and if they're ready to demand it before then, so much the better).  And even if you don't dare to dream about LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh (any one of whom would be nice fits with Davis and Kaman in 2010), there will be a host of other free agents on the market that summer, since they all know that the money will be flying.  The Clippers had the money to spend this summer.  It ain't my money.  It is difficult to imagine a better scenario than getting a player as productive as Marcus Camby without committing more than two years. 

Bear in mind that two seasons is the new one season, since next year Camby becomes an expiring contract, which is solid gold itself.  There is literally no downside to this acquisition.  The money was burning a hole in DTS' pocket and it doesn't help us fans if he holds onto it.  So Camby is pure gravy compared to Tim Thomas or Josh Powell.  If he plays anywhere close to as well as he has for several seasons in a row in Denver, then he's helping the Clippers win a lot of games.  If not, he's a $10M trade chip next summer.  And then he's no longer on the books.  I'll say it again - there is no downside.

I'll reflect on the bigger picture (Davis and Camby versus Brand and Maggette, 05-06 Clippers versus 08-09 Clippers, etc.) at a later time.  For now, yes, I love his trade.  Let me also add that when deals like this happen, where a team gives up a player for almost literally nothing strictly for monetary reasons (Rasheed Wallace to Detroit, Pau Gasol to the Lakers, and on a lesser scale James Jones to Portland or Kurt Thomas to the Sonics), I invariably ask myself "Why couldn't the Clippers have been the beneficiary of that charity?"  Well, this time, it was the Clippers.