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Toumani Camara Exceeding Expectations for Trail Blazers

A reader marvels at a trade “throw-in”. We reexamine the term.

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

In a season full of injuries and intermittent play, forward Toumani Camara stands out as a bright spot for the Portland Trail Blazers. The rookie averages just shy of 25 minutes per game, having started in 10 of 19 appearances so far. In floor time alone, Camara is exceeding expectations for a 52nd overall pick, a supposedly minor player caught up in the trade whirlwind surrounding Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic last summer.

One Blazer’s Edge Reader has been pleasantly surprised, and wonders how much of this was in Portland’s plan all along. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Hi Dave,

When the trade involving Toumani Camara was announced, he was described as being a throw in to make the salaries match.

Is it possible the Blazers had scouted him beforehand and chose him for his defensive skills?

Thanks.

Jon

Thanks, Jon! I think we need to redefine the concept of “throw-in” a little.

At heart, “throw-in” is a salary-cap based term. As you’ve indicated, the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement provides rules governing trades between teams, many of which require the salaries of players exchanged to balance in one configuration or another. A “throw-in” player is included in a trade to make the salary exchange work out right. This is true even if the player wouldn’t necessarily be a trade target for either team organically.

That’s not necessarily ALL a player is, though. Even a throw-in can have value. At the salary levels discussed—usually rookie-scale or minimum contracts—teams generally have a few players to chose from. They’re going to covet some over others.

Think of it like going to the store to get ingredients for banana bread. A throw-in player isn’t the bananas or the flour, but if you see blueberries sitting there at the right price, that’s going to be a nice addition. More to the point, you’re not going to grab the crappiest carton of blueberries on the shelf. If you’re going to buy them, you’re going to want the best possible fruit for the money.

Given that, teams scout—and get choosy about—the lesser players in a trade. Sometimes there’s not much of a choice. Trade partners will only consider moving a certain player and/or salaries have to match so exactly that there’s only one answer. But given negotiating room, the front office wants to extract the most value possible out of the deal.

Enter Toumani Camara. His assets are obvious, the same that recommended him as a second-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. His body looks like it’s made of bricks. His lateral quickness is impressive. He has nice height and he likes to play defense. His offensive game is dicey enough to star in a Damon Runyan play; the distance shooting just isn’t there yet. But a serviceable defender is never unwelcome. This “throw-in” was a low-risk, high-potential grab for the Blazers, exactly what they were looking for.

As such, I suspect they were fairly happy to see Camara’s name on the trade offer. He’s a potential building block. They certainly suspected he could be.

Not all throw-ins will be as productive. Sometimes the extra guy gets waived or languishes on the end of the bench all season. But as Camara proves, the scale for throw-ins is as flexible as that for the main players in trades. Sometimes they work out, other times not, but you’re always hoping that every guy you get makes a difference.

In the end, it’s best to keep “throw-in” narrowly defined, in the salary cap sense. That’s accurate in nearly 100% of trades that invoke them. Use “throw-in” to describe player quality at your own risk. Sometimes it’ll be accurate, but not always.

Thanks for the question! You can send yours to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to answer as many as possible!