Dating all the way back to training camp, we've noted that Portland Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby is one of the team's least replaceable pieces. That became more pronounced when it was clear that Greg Oden and Jeff Pendergraph wouldn't be contributing in the short-term, and was mitigated only somewhat when Joel Przybilla made his return to action, as he's been limited and playing essentially spot minutes against second-stringers this season.
Tuesday's news that Camby will undergo arthroscopic surgery on Thursday is either bad or terrible, depending on how long he's out. As we noted recently with Brandon Roy, arthroscopic knee surgeries are generally minor procedures with relatively quick recovery timelines. In a realistic best-case scenario, Camby would be ready to go following the All-Star break, which is one month away. Maintaining a .500 record between now and then is realistic for Portland given the quality of competition over the next month. Should Camby's absence extend into the first few weeks of March, life will get considerably more difficult and the possibility that Portland drops out of the No. 8 seed starts to rise pretty quickly.
Camby's injury puts Blazers coach Nate McMillan in a very tough spot. Przybilla stated just last week that he feels he's playing at roughly 75-80% and that his goal this season is to avoid re-injury. That's not a player any coach would feel comfortable turning to for heavy minutes. Other than Przybilla, you're looking at Sean Marks. Enough said. Even if both Przybilla and Marks played out of their minds -- logging more minutes than they have all season and doing it while playing their best basketball of the year -- they're not approximating Camby's production on either end of the floor. That deficit will be particularly striking on defense, where the Blazers have struggled to protect the rim recently, even with Camby playing.
McMillan will turn to smallball, the only question is to what degree. Playing forward backup Dante Cunningham for extended minutes has allowed teams to exploit his lack of height and low-post bulk, but his quickness and basketball intelligence allows Portland to play more zone. Cunningham can also handle stretch fours fairly well, allowing Aldridge to shift to the five. Depending on match-ups and situations, McMillan could go even smaller, using a three-guard lineup of Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez with Nicolas Batum at the four too.
The hardest hit player here, without question, is LaMarcus Aldridge. He's played absurd minutes all season and he already draws a ton of defensive attention. Both of those will only increase in Camby's absence. Aldridge also could count on a few easy buckets per game thanks to Camby's offensive rebounding and passing from the high post. The day Sean Marks throws Aldridge a seamless lob like Camby is the day YouTube crashes (and my brain blue screens). Camby's departure means Aldridge will be both facing more attention and doing it without some of his most efficient touches and looks. That's a double-whammy that would impact the production of any post player.
To compound matters, Aldridge will likely draw tougher defensive assignments as well, given that the percentage of possessions in which Portland's other big men (Przybilla, Marks, Cunningham) are unable to check a low-post threat will increase dramatically. McMillan can try to save Aldridge during certain stretches, particularly when he's not out there against starters, but you can't hide him completely without opening up a direct path to your basket given Portland's other defensive personnel. By extension, this will bring up the issue of fouls again, which Aldridge has handled well all season, fouling out just twice. But playing with fouls while defending primary scorers is much more difficult than playing with fouls while playing alongside Camby when he is defending the primary scorer.
Linked below are some thoughts on how this might increase Portland's activity prior to the trade deadline. Buyers on the market for bigs (most notably Orlando) haven't found much available over the last month. Assuming Camby is not out long-term, I don't think Portland's strategy in pursuing a big man will change all that much. They needed an extra big with Camby; they need an extra big without him. Either way, any player you can acquire in that situation isn't going to change the course of your season or make a meaningful difference in your ability to advance in the playoffs without coming at the expense of long-term cash or a young asset. Given the potential ceiling on this team and its current payroll, it's difficult to see Portland shelling out money or parting with a real piece to make do up front.
Fitting a cheap big man into the exception created by the Jerryd Bayless trade is a nice thought, and certainly a possibility, but would necessitate waiving a player, probably Sean Marks, so it comes with additional cost and doesn't address the issue of depth. Will the market for bigs be better on draft day or would the pick(s) needed to get a big now be better spent then? That's the question the decision-makers are weighing. Given where the entire roster stands, I would pass on pursuing another band-aid solution right now, preferring to take as many assets as possible into draft night with a coherent plan.
The big trade implication with this injury, I think, is Przybilla's availability. Given his production and minutes, and the fact that he has an expiring contract, he has seemed like the Blazer most likely to be moved prior to the deadline dating all the way back to last summer. As his role necessarily increases in Camby's absence, he becomes more difficult to part with and what you need to receive in return narrows. The temptation will be to view Przybilla as a needed stop-gap until Camby's full recovery, which isn't likely to come prior to the February trade deadline. Unless a Przybilla-centered package can net you a big man that a team is looking to dump because he has dollars left on his contract, it's tough to envision a scenario where Portland takes the risk involved in moving him.
It's been said many times that Western Conference playoff teams need to have a bankable identity. Portland has worked to create that in Brandon Roy's absence and succeeded to the point where they were very likely to make the postseason as constructed last week. Camby, however, was a huge part of that identity, which emphasized extending possessions and making up for poor shooting with second-chance opportunities, spacing the floor around Aldridge, team defense, and playing hard every night. In his absence, Portland's offensive rebounding rate will decrease, its team shooting percentages will likely take a hit, Aldridge's efficiency will likely drop and its current defensive efficiency will be difficult to maintain. Those are some fairly critical areas when it comes to playing playofff-caliber basketball down the stretch.
In other words, it's fair to say that Portland's playoff chances are directly tied to Camby's timeline. As mentioned above, if he's back in a reasonably short window, it's still Portland's No. 8 seed to lose. Any longer, and the lack of depth and quality becomes extremely exploitable.
A final question to keep an eye on: Will playing without Camby for an extended period of time make Portland more likely to use Brandon Roy once he's deemed fit after his surgeries? It's easier to re-insert a player into a team that's in flux rather than a team that's set and stabilized. It's also more tempting to hope that Roy can be a panacea if the Blazers start to head south a bit without Camby as there would be less to lose. It's still too early to take a stance on that without knowing both of their timelines, but that's something to watch.
Here's a round-up of other Marcus Camby reactions...
Wendell Maxey believes the trade talk will heat up...
"Some front offices are still trying to figure out exactly where they (Portland) stand with their roster," said one league source.
"This (Camby's knee) sends the message that the Blazers are a lot more serious about making changes than before, but that's what happens to a number of teams once injuries take over. You can't control injuries, but you can control making moves to better your team."
ESPN's NBA rumors wonders if New York Knicks forward Anthony Randolph is the answer...
With Marcus Camby about to undergo surgery on his ailing right knee and Portland down another body in the frontcourt, it's possible the team could look to make a move to shore up depth concerns. And New York's seldom-used Anthony Randolph could be a logical fit. As ESPN's Chris Broussard reported late last week, Randolph, according to sources, is expected to be traded for a first-round pick in the next two weeks.
Dwight Jaynes asks...
Man, can Joel Przybilla hold up through an increase in his playing time? He played a season-high 17 minutes Monday night and was said to be OK Tuesday. Still, playing center for the Portland Trail Blazers seems to me one of the world's most hazardous jobs.
Travis Demers analyzes the implications from all angles and wonders whether the Blazers are still a playoff team...
It's hard to look at that roster, and that lineup and say that's a playoff team. It really isn't. As of this moment, the Blazers are in 8th in the west, 2 games behind Denver for 7th, 4 games back of New Orleans for 6th, 2 and a half games ahead of the Suns and Grizzlies, and 3 games ahead of the Rockets. If the Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony, that should take them out of the picture, depending on what kind of contributers they get back. That may open up a spot. The Hornets are a borderline playoff team. The Suns are who scare me, now that they are starting to play well for the first time since pulling off the big trade in mid-December. The upcoming schedule looks relatively easy with the Kings twice, the Pacers and the Clippers. The rest of the schedule gets a little tougher in February, and more difficult in March and April. If they play .500 basketball the rest of the way, they won't get in.
Mike Tokito of OregonLive.com provides some numbers.
5 -- Camby's NBA rank in rebounding, with an average of 11.3.
9 -- Previous seasons in which Camby has averaged double figures in rebounding. That include the last seven.
20.4 -- Average number of regular season games Camby has missed in his first 14 NBA seasons. That includes 53 games each in consecutive seasons -- 2001-02 with the Knicks and 2002-03 with the Nuggets -- primarily because of a hip injury.
393 -- Days since Joel Przybilla was last in the starting lineup for the Blazers. He is expected to start tonight at Sacramento in Camby's place. His last start came on Dec. 22, 2009 at Dallas, where he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
6 -- Number of starting lineups the Blazers have used this season, with No. 7 coming tonight if Przybilla starts.
Andrew Tonry of Portland Roundball Society wonders...
What in God's name is going on here? And when does coincidence stop being coincidence? I like trainer Jay Jensen, but when running a multi-million dollar business and these injuries keep freakishly piling up, is it appropriate to clean house just in case?
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter