One of the topics that came up semi-unexpectedly in yesterday's podcast was the efficacy of Marcus Camby, specifically how much, and for what things, the Blazers could rely upon him this season. The subject deserves further exploration.
Camby was a fantastic addition to the roster. The comparatively small price for which he was acquired last season (Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake, both of whom were departing anyway) made his acquisition a no-brainer at the time. Lengthy injury recoveries for Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla have promoted the move from obvious to prescient. It ranks as one of the timeliest trades in franchise history. The Blazers will continue to reap the benefit of that timing through the early months of 2010-11. As Casey and I mentioned yesterday, one look at the current center position without Camby makes any counter-argument moot. Walking into the season with Jeff Pendergraph and LaMarcus Aldridge as centers with Dante Cunningham as Aldridge's wingman when he plays the 5...that's not pretty. As talented, motivated, and hard-working as they are, they're not suited for permanent advancement to the next weight class. Camby is the only warm body keeping that advancement at bay right now.
This perfectly describes what Camby means to the Blazers. He's the center-piece (if you will) allowing the players around him to play to their potential at their natural positions. He's not just a stopgap place-holder for whom teammates have to compensate. When he's in the game the Blazers can rely on shot-blocking, rebounding, and semi-mobile center defense. Nobody has to watch their backs. The store's minded. His high post ability also benefits Portland's penetrating guards. He may not revolutionize the offense but he'll hit the outlet jumper without clogging the paint or slowing the team down. He's hit super-veteran status so he's adaptable to various lineups and opponents. He won't scratch his head trying to figure out what to do and he's unlikely to blow the team apart attempting to go beyond his zone of effectiveness to prove a point or earn minutes. The ability to play power forward is a huge bonus as well. He fits, he's capable, he's good for the team.
But that's where the story ends. That's not meant in a disparaging or disappointed way either. He's giving this team amazing things. But can he give this team everything it needs? Though Camby makes his teammates as good as they can be he's not the guy to make this team better than it is...something which, by definition, the Blazers need after two straight first-round exits. Andre Miller isn't as good of a fit as Camby, but he actually has more inherent potential to elevate teammates beyond themselves. If the Blazers want that capability at center--which they do since the three tweener positions have the most potential to elevate and that elevation probably isn't coming from the point guards at this juncture--they're going to need more than Camby alone. Marcus is capable of carrying the team on his back for a quarter or a game. He's not capable of doing it for a season. Part of that is age and injury history. He's 36 and has never played a full 82-game season in his 14-year career. Part of it is size at the five. Part of it is skill set, including offensive limitations and the ability to defend opposing centers for long minutes one-on-one.
Camby will be the lane bumper that keeps the bowling ball from rolling in the gutter, giving you from 1-10 pins on a given roll. He's not going to be the guy who gives you a strike in every frame. If anyone does that, it'll be Oden...who very much needs Camby as he (Oden) goes through his growth process but has to exceed Camby's effect on the game if Portland is to be considered a serious championship contender. This team needs more than another really good player in the starting lineup to contend with the league elite. It needs a game-changer in the starting lineup and that really good player playing a key role off the bench. In the final analysis, that has to be Camby's fit if Portland is to reach the highest levels of competition.
I am ecstatic to have Marcus Camby as part of this team. I cannot imagine another center Portland could reasonable acquire who would fit or play better. But if Marcus Camby is the only functional center on this team for the year he's not going to be enough.
We'll get a glimpse of life without Marcus in the Blazers' first pre-season game tonight. It's not likely to be pretty. But even life with Camby hearkens far more to a friends-with-benefits arrangement than a long-term relationship, let alone marriage. He's the Blazers' BFF for sure, but not enough on his own to inspire thoughts of rings.