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A Look at the (As-Yet-Unofficial) Marcus Camby Trade

To follow the rolling Marcus Camby news breaks as they happened last evening check out Ben Golliver's post below.  Keep in mind that nothing is final until the papers are signed and delivered.  But even if the trade falls through at the last minute this should give you a sense of what it would have meant and therefore why it might, or ultimately might not, have been done. 

What does the Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake for Marcus Camby trade amount to?  The simplest explanation is usually the most accurate.  The simplest explanation here is that this was a short-term move based on the comparative value of the players involved to the Blazers. 

The Portland tenures of Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake, both on expiring contracts, were certain to end this season.  The Blazers get nothing by letting them walk this summer.  Even worse, up until now the Blazers were getting nothing out of Outlaw on the court because of injuries.  With the regular rotation populated by the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Nicolas Batum, and now Dante Cunningham they weren't likely to get big minutes out of him even when he returned.  Whatever misgivings there might be about missing his ability to create a shot out of nothing can be tempered by the reality that he'd have 20 minutes to work his magic per game, a situation which he would not have viewed fondly nor probably produced in.  Steve Blake's contributions, while underestimated in general, had been muted this year compared to past Portland seasons.  They probably didn't view him as a determining factor in wins and losses in the final 27 games of the year.

Given that, the question becomes simple:  What would give you more than very little during the remainder of the season and absolutely nothing afterwards?  The answer was also simple:  "almost anything".  With the team lacking a center, a 35-year-old veteran who can play the middle, rebound, block shots, and hit a jumper in 30+ minutes per game qualifies well above "almost anything".  Camby will help cement the Blazers into a lower playoff seed, a crucial achievement for this young team.  Outlaw and Blake would not have done that.  It's a no-brainer in that sense.

Camby is not a great straight-up defender.  He's not going to be handcuffing Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum.  He will block shots, especially when providing help.  The Blazers will take that.  He can rebound, which the Blazers also need big-time since the centers went down.  His offense is best when he's facing up.  He has a nice free-throw area jumper, which also fits in with this team.  He's not going to change the offense, however.  Whatever you're frustrated with offensively now you'll still be frustrated with when Marcus plays.  His biggest asset is simply being a proficient player with size.  Juwan Howard has done yeoman's work at center but how long could he and the Blazers get away with playing him 30+ minutes in crucial games?  When you're crawling through the desert and someone offers you a drink you don't ask whether it's tap water or purified.  That's what Marcus Camby is...a big old 6'11" pitcher of potable water that's going to allow us to make it through the arid sands until we hit habitable land again.

Don't let the natural excitement over the trade mislead you into making more of it than it is, however.  The Blazers are getting a player who will provide exponentially more value in this critical stretch of the season than the players they're trading away would have.  The Blazers are not getting a long-term solution at center.  Over the long haul Portland will almost certainly come out even, having traded away two players they wouldn't re-sign for one player they won't re-sign.

Why won't Camby be a long-term Blazer?  Portland probably needs a third center but Camby isn't it.  He's 35, staring down the barrel of his last contract in the league.  He might not command the $9.2 million he's currently earning but he's going to get as much as he can.  Taking an 80% pay cut is not on his agenda.  If he were to make his services available at a bargain it would be for other reasons:  consistent minutes, a chance at a championship, or even a compatible environment.  We can't be sure if any of those things motivates Mr. Camby but we are sure the Blazers can't offer him any of them right now.

Camby has been averaging 31 minutes per game with the Clippers, a number which has remained steady for years since he was a Knick.  A healthy Blazers squad doesn't have 31 minutes to give a center/power forward.  They might not have 10 minutes to give a center/power forward.  Even if he thinks the chances of Greg Oden playing a full season are small Camby's not going to accept that kind of demotion.  The Blazers should be quite good soon, but "soon" doesn't cut it for a 35-year old pivot.  He needs "immediate", as in Boston, Cleveland, or the other Los Angeles immediate.  As Ben's link-sleuthing pointed out, sources have reported Camby's initial reaction to the trade as negative, likely because he was hoping to stay in Los Angeles.  With due apologies to Clippers fans, the only way that makes sense is if he wanted to live in L.A.  If that's the case there's no chance he'd find Portland a suitable substitute.

The hesitation won't be one-sided either.  Provided their other centers can recover before the fall there's no more incentive for the Blazers to pay Camby multiple millions to stay than there would have been to pay Outlaw multiple millions to stay.  They are different players at different stages of their careers.  They feature different skills and man different positions.  But they have the same, basic problem of having no minutes available on this roster.  That provides a distinct lack of value for the Blazers' money.

Summing up...  Either Marcus Camby's next contract will be motivated by money which Portland won't want to give him or it will be motivated by by other desires which Portland can't fulfill.  Short of a Joel Przybilla trade or retirement (which I supposed could happen if his knee injury is worse than we know) this isn't a long-term match. 

In the end the Blazers walk away from this deal with a (likely) starting center for the rest of the season, a better chance at a playoff spot, and the same amount coming off the salary ledgers as they would have had otherwise, all at the cost of a broken forward and one of their three point guards.  The Clippers, who weren't going anywhere this year even with Camby, walk away from this deal with either the chance to re-sign the relatively-young Outlaw where they wouldn't have re-signed Camby (a sure sign that he wasn't looking to come cheap) or the chance to trade Outlaw and/or Blake for some low-end picks.  Whether they value Outlaw or are simply looking to turn him around and get back the second-rounder they spent on Camby originally they're not on the hook for extra salary either.  It works for both sides...perhaps more clearly for the Blazers than the Clippers but again the willingness of the Clips to part with Camby for nebulous gain should also frame any assessment of his value to Portland beyond the obvious (admittedly potentially great) impact on the next couple dozen games.

Situations change.  Maybe the Blazers find Camby so valuable that they're willing to retain him at any price.  Maybe Camby falls in love with the team and its chances.  But for now the deal is no more and no less than a very nice immediate move for this team, the kind that shows they're committed to making the post-season a part of their future even if they have to manufacture ways to make that happen.

--Dave (