Camby move to L.A. great for Clips, good for Nuggets, bad for Smith
LAS VEGAS -- The Clippers made a bold but risky move, the Nuggets are left defenseless and Josh Smith is wondering if anyone wants to employ him.
The Clippers' decision to acquire Camby from the Nuggets was a curious one. While at one point in his career the 6-foot-11, 235-pound Camby could have been considered a power forward, he has been predominantly a center for the last seven seasons. Los Angeles, however, already has a pretty good player entrenched at that position: Chris Kaman, who had a breakout season in 2007-2008, averaging 15.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in 56 games.
Still, if Camby can shift to the vacant power forward spot, in the wake of Elton Brand's defection last week, it gives L.A. an imposing front line. And it instantly improves the Clippers' defense. Camby, the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year, led the NBA in blocked shots (3.6 per game) last season and averaged a career-high 13.1 rebounds. Granted, the Nuggets' poor perimeter defense led to an inflated number of shot-blocking opportunities for Camby. But at 34, Camby is still one of the top three or four defensive centers in the game. And despite a long history of injuries, Camby played in a career-best 79 games last season, his second straight campaign of 70 or more games.
For the Nuggets, who acquired a $10 million trade exception along with the right to swap 2010 second-round picks with the Clippers, the deal was purely a financial one. Denver had the fifth-highest payroll ($76.9 million) in the league last season but barely made the playoffs and was swept out of the first round by the Lakers -- the fifth straight time the Nuggets failed to advance in the postseason. With several bloated contracts on the roster -- namely Allen Iverson (owed $21.9 million next season), Carmelo Anthony ($14.4 million) and Kenyon Martin ($14.1 million) -- Denver was desperate for cap relief and dealing Camby should get them within shouting distance of the luxury tax, which will likely be around $68 million next season.
The Nuggets will lose a formidable defensive presence in Camby, but as one Western Conference assistant coach put it, "They weren't playing defense with him, they can play it just as bad without him."
The big loser in this deal may be the Hawks' Smith. A restricted free agent, Smith has seen the market for his services dry up quickly. Philadelphia was believed to be the front-runner, but the Sixers pivoted and spent their money on Brand. After dining with Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy last week, it appeared the Clippers were preparing to make an offer. But in trading for Camby, they can no longer come close to offering Smith the kind of megadeal he's seeking.
Smith's options are now limited. Memphis is the only team with enough free-agent money to make a serious offer, but the Grizzlies recently made a commitment to Marc Gasol and have given no indication that they are interested in Smith.
The Hawks would likely raise the five-year, $45 million offer that Smith turned down last summer, but money will not be the only factor in the 22-year-old power forward's returning to Atlanta. As I reported in Sports Illustrated during last season, league sources said Smith would not be interested in returning to the Hawks if the team retained coach Mike Woodson, who recently signed a two-year extension. The two have butted heads frequently in Smith's four seasons, and sources said the relationship is beyond repair. With a dearth of offers, Smith may change his tune, but having a volatile relationship on such a young team may not be in the Hawks' best interests.
A more appealing, but less plausible scenario could be for Smith to sign the one-year qualifying offer with Atlanta and try his luck in free agency next season. But after putting up staggering numbers last season (17.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game), Smith will likely be looking for the security of a long-term deal.
If he wants it, he'll get it. It will just be less appealing than the one he thought he was getting when he entered free agency. He can thank the Sixers and Clippers for that.
Notes from Las Vegas
A few quick nuggets from the NBA summer league...
The talk here continues to be about the future of Ron Artest. Dallas reportedly has had internal discussions about the Kings' mercurial power forward and may be willing to part with its own enigmatic forward, Josh Howard, to get him. The Lakers -- who have dangled Lamar Odom -- continue to be regarded as the favorites, with their willingness to swallow the remaining two years and $16.5 million of Kenny Thomas' contract considered the only holdup.