Los Angeles Clippers
Traded center Marcus Camby to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for guard Steve Blake, forward Travis Outlaw and cash considerations. [2/16]
For this deal to be more than a money grab for the Clippers, it has to be the first part in a series. Moving Camby was the right decision, since his productivity makes little difference to a team going nowhere that ought to be starting to give minutes to second-year man DeAndre Jordan in order to speed his development and better assess his ability. The cash isn't insignificant. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reports $3 million, the maximum allowed in a trade, is changing hands. (However, ESPN.com's Marc Stein counters that the Clippers are getting just $1.5 million.) Also, Portland will be responsible for the incentives in Camby's contract, most notably a bonus he gets for playing in 65 games (he's at 51 now), per Blazersedge's Benjamin Golliver. That will save somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million. Still, if this is it and the Clippers don't get any kind of future value for Camby, he's an asset squandered.
The assumption, then, is that since the Clippers could have gotten this deal from the Blazers at any point, the reason to make it now--with a full two days before the trade deadline--is because Mike Dunleavy is thinking of moving Blake and/or Outlaw again. Either player could be dealt on their own now. The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits the Clippers from pairing them with other players--like guard Sebastian Telfair and forward Al Thornton, whom the team is reportedly trying to move--but there are ways around that, most notably by executing simultaneous trades that technically aren't connected.
Blake in particular should have value to teams like the Miami Heat looking for veteran help at the point. Outlaw may be a little more difficult to trade because he has missed the last three months with a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot. He went through half of Monday's first practice after the All-Star break and hopes to return as soon as Sunday, but certainly not in time to prove his health to potential suitors. Still, the Memphis Grizzlies have long coveted Outlaw, and the Clippers could at the very least save some more money by sending Outlaw to the Grizzlies, who would only have to send a minimum-salary player like Marcus Williams in return because they are under the cap.
Portland Trail Blazers
Traded guard Steve Blake, forward Travis Outlaw and cash considerations to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for center Marcus Camby. [2/16]
It's hard to think of a much better fit between player and team need than Camby for the Blazers. Portland was in desperate need of an upgrade at center with Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla sidelined, but with both players due back next season, taking on a long-term contract was an unappealing solution. Enter Camby, an expiring contract who also happens to be one of the league's best rim-protectors.
A couple of weeks ago, I used Hoopdata.com's shooting breakdown by distance to show that interior defense has been a major problem since Przybilla joined Oden on the Blazers' lengthy injury list. Nothing has really changed since then. Opponents are still shooting 65.5 percent at the rim against Portland since Juwan Howard took over as the starter in the middle. Only Washington has been worse at protecting the paint over the course of the season. Good passing teams, most notably the Utah Jazz, have torched the Blazers by patiently exploiting this weakness. In two wins over Portland in the last month, the Jazz has made 81.3 percent of its at-the-rim attempts. The L.A. Lakers shot 17-of-19 (89.5 percent) at the rim in their win at the Rose Garden.
How crucial has the weakness been? The difference between the 56.9 percent opponents shot at the rim with Oden and/or Przybilla in the lineup and the 65.5 percent they have shot since then is a matter of 4.5 points per game given the number of attempts the Blazers allow.
Camby should change that in a hurry. Not only is his size a length a dramatic upgrade from the 6'9" Howard, who is simply unsuited for the center position, but the former Defensive Player of the Year is a quality shot blocker who blocks shots nearly 10 times as frequently as Howard and a rate similar to Przybilla. Camby, the league's leader in rebound percentage, also offers a major upgrade from Howard on the defensive glass.
Howard has been more effective for the Blazers on offense, where his ability to run the pick-and-pop and knock down the midrange jumper opened the floor up for Brandon Roy (prior to the strained right hamstring that has sidelined him recently) and the rest of the Portland guards. Shooting from the perimeter is also a key part of Camby's offensive game, and while he is not highly accurate on long twos (he's been around 35-37 percent from 16-23 feet, per Hoopdata.com, before slipping to 27.0 percent this year) opponents will likely respect his shooting ability as they have Howard's.
For the Blazers to be able to add Camby without sacrificing any draft picks or young players, then, is a tremendous coup. Paul Allen can spare the money, especially on a team with a relatively low payroll this season. That doesn't mean this deal is without risk. Blake in particular was much more than an expiring contract for Portland. He's averaging 27.4 minutes a night and coming off the best game of his season--20 points and 12 assists, both season highs, in a win at Phoenix.
Blake's departure thrusts Jerryd Bayless into the role of backup point guard after he's spent much of his improved sophomore campaign playing off the ball. According to BasketballValue.com's lineup data, Bayless has played just 172 minutes at the point. The Blazers have been effective in those situations, outscoring opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions, but Roy often acts as a de facto point guard in such lineups. Bayless initiating the offense with the second until will be a slightly different matter.
Outlaw finished fifth in Sixth Man Award voting a year ago, but Portland has scarcely missed him since Outlaw was lost in mid-November. The strong play of rookie Dante Cunningham, along with the Blazers' depth on the wing, made Outlaw expendable.
The battle is now officially on in the Western Conference to join the L.A. Lakers, Denver and Utah with home-court advantage in the first round. Dallas upgraded on Saturday, and now the Blazers may have helped themselves just as much with this trade. Both teams have significantly improved their chances of winning a playoff series, something Portland hasn't done in a decade.
Join Kevin as well as Bradford Doolittle, Anthony Macri and Hoopdata.com's Tom Haberstroh to discuss the NBA trade deadline live this Thursday starting at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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