Marcus Camby: Good Deal or Bad Deal?

A consensus seems to be building that the Marcus Camby contract extension deal is as good as done.  So let's turn our attention to the pressing question: good deal or bad deal?

On balance, a guaranteed 2 year / 21 million dollar deal is solid for the Blazers. Those numbers provide roster stability at a reasonable price for a reasonable length, exposing the team to an acceptable amount of risk.

First the risks. Camby turned 36 years old in March so this deal, as reported, would take him through his 38th birthday.  Not many NBA centers remain productive at 38 but, then again, not many NBA centers remain productive at 36. In addition to his age, Camby has missed significant chunks of multiple seasons, including 20 games last year, 26 games in 2006 and more than 50 games in 2003.  He missed short stints as a Blazer with minor ailments, tweaked ankles and the like.

When Camby has played there has been no question about his impact on games. He's averaged more than 10 rebounds per game in 9 of the past 10 seasons and he's been a defensive mainstay throughout. Camby's play since he was traded to Portland prior to this year's trading deadline has been nothing short of spectacular: He's averaged 7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.1 steals per game and he's shooting nearly 50% from the field. He's been lauded by his teammates and coaching staff alike for his leadership both on and off the court.  For stretches, especially in Brandon Roy's absence, Camby has even been the most valuable Blazer this season.  As a cherry on top, his skillset is an ideal match for that of Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge in that he produces extra possessions without needing the ball in his hands and can operate out of the high post if needed.  

Given his current game-changing level of play, there is little doubt that Camby will continue to make a big-time impact next season.  He is able to play either the power forward or center position, as a starter or a reserve, and impact games regardless of how many possessions he is on the floor.  Next season, a front court rotation of Aldridge, Oden, Camby, Cunningham and Pendergraph is well balanced and fairly deep.  It figures to be among the league's best, especially on the glass. After next season, the thinking likely goes, Greg Oden should be commanding every last minute and touch and Camby's role likely diminishes into that of a smaller-minute backup. That's a nice chain of succession. 

Thanks to the recent re-injury of Joel Przybilla and Oden's ongoing rehabilitation, the Blazers clearly had a signficant short-term need to address their frontcourt if they were to reach their stated goal of making a deep playoff run in the near future.  Had the Blazers not agreed to an extension with Camby, he would have hit the open market this summer and teams like the New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and others had already expressed varying degrees of interest.  With no firm ties to Portland, Camby's flight risk this summer was high.  Getting this done quickly is a win for both sides but particularly for Portland.

As for the contract terms, any chance of re-signing Camby to a one year deal (with a non-guaranteed or team option on the second year) evaporated thanks to his solid recent play.  Without question, someone would have given him a guaranteed second year this summer.  The $21 million dollar figure is squarely in the middle of the ballpark that's been guessed at for some time (including in the comments here).  It's right on for the production that he will provide next year and it's probably a little high in the second year.  But that's the premium you pay to keep him here and, in a worse case scenario, the second year figure makes for a nice expiring contract.    

For Przybilla, this signing makes him even more likely to serve as trade bait at next year's trade deadline, assuming the Blazers are unable to move him this summer.  His roughly 7.4 million dollar contract is set to expire next season and, depending on the length of his absence, could be covered by insurance.  Given the nature and extent of his knee injury it was difficult to imagine Przybilla impacting games before the middle of next season at the absolute earliest.  The Blazers simply aren't in a position to wait on him or cross their fingers and hope the old Joel will be able to make a comeback.  

For Oden, this signing carries significant weight.  First, the big dollar salary commitment suggests that the Blazers will not rush to extend Oden this summer.  An extension for Oden already seemed uncertain due to likely differences in his perceived value but committing this much money (and wasting no time in doing so) indicates the Blazers believe Camby is a key component going forward.  

If anything, this move ramps up the pressure on Oden to produce and to earn his playing time.  Nate McMillan is an unabashed fan of what Camby brings to the table and Oden is set to enter his fourth full season after being drafted.  The training wheels and kid-glove treatment, so to speak, now become be a thing of the past for Oden.  It will be time to sink or swim, his starter's minutes and, in turn, the size of any future extension, will hinge on his ability to beat out Camby next season.  In the past, Oden has responded well to a similar competition with Przybilla.  Ideally, Oden is your opening night starter next season.  But that's not by default any longer.  That should serve as excellent motivation as he continues through his rehabilitation process this summer.

If there's a bright side for Oden, though, it is further affirmation that this organization will reward him handsomely if he is able to impact games as he did at the beginning of this season.  While they are different offensive players -- Camby is a mobile, face-up threat while Oden is a traditional back-to-the-basket bruiser -- their effects on the defensive end and the boards are similar.  In Camby, Oden can see exactly what he needs to do and how much money he'll be given if he does it.  He'll also have one hell of a mentor.

If there's one final concern with this deal it's the matter of contract-year incentive.  Marcus Camby has been killing himself the last two months.  With two guaranteed years in hand, does he come into camp fully in shape and ready to go from day one?  Is he able to play for 70+ games again next season? Does he relinquish the starter's role a little too easily?  Nothing from his time in Portland suggests those will be problems, however these are risks that go with any veteran player that's playing for a final pay day.  

In this case, I believe paying Camby and hoping he returns motivated and stays healthy over the next two years is a much safer play than any of the obvious alternatives: letting him hit the open market this summer, waiting for Przybilla, relying on Oden alone or trying to find someone else who can do what he can do.  

Put simply, Marcus Camby's contributions have been invaluable, but 21 million over two years seems like a fair number to place on them.  

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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