With the Clippers' trade of big man Marcus Camby to Portland for guard Steve Blake, forward Travis Outlaw and cash, a number of interesting issues come to light for the team. At its core, this is a monetary deal for the Clippers. They exchange one expiring contract for two, so they don't sacrifice their off-season cap space as they enter the 2010 free agent bonanza. The real prize for the Clippers is the $1.5 million netted from Portland. Never underestimate the value of hard currency in an economic downturn. The Clippers are a relatively healthy franchise, but every dollar counts.
What Camby's departure means for the Clippers on the floor
Camby was an unimpeachable professional in his 19 months with the team and the anchor of the team's interior defense which, this season, has been notably acceptable. The Clippers were 7.7 points per 100 possessions with Camby on the floor. Pick any metric you want -- two-year adjusted plus/minus, one-year adjusted plus/minus, defensive rating -- and Camby's numbers jump off the screen. He's the NBA's leader in rebounding rate and leads power forwards (his nominal position with the Clippers) in assist rate, so he knows how to move the ball in the half court and is particularly adept at running high-low sets from the top of the floor.
In the locker room, Camby is a mentor to the Clippers' younger players and a confidante to his fellow veterans. He plays hurt, plays hard, is congenial with the media and generous with his charitable work. Camby was less than thrilled in the summer of 2008 to be dealt from Denver to Clippers, but since then he has become extremely comfortable with his role in Los Angeles, even as the team has struggled.
Camby's absence undoubtedly makes the Clippers worse and could escalate their descent into basketball oblivion. On the bright side, they might be able to accumulate a few more ping-pong balls and jump a couple of slots on the draft board.
Introducing DeAndre Jordan
Several teams have reportedly inquired about the availability of Jordan, but the Clippers aren't seriously entertaining offers for their enigmatic second-year center. That's because he's far too intriguing (and affordable) a talent to surrender in a negligible deal.
Camby's absence will make the Clippers a decidedly less watchable product over the next two months, but the team was unlikely to make the postseason even with Camby patrolling the paint. Why not take advantage of the lost season to sculpt Jordan's raw athleticism into a more refined skill set? It won't always be pretty. Jordan struggles to defend the pick and roll, converts free throws at a low rate and his body often operates a second or two ahead of his brain. But he's a force of nature at the rim, shoots 63 percent from the field and cleans the glass with authority. As a side note, he also hosts one of the more entertaining Twitter feeds of any NBA player.
Are Al Thornton's days as a Clipper numbered?
Thornton experienced a brief rebirth in December after losing his starting job to Rasual Butler, becoming a far more selective shooter and more motivated rebounder. But after New Year's, Thornton regressed as his bad habits resurfaced. Rather than attack the basket, Thronton has been settling for low-percentage perimeter jumpers even though he's an inefficient shooter from that distance. Lauded for his athleticism, Thornton somehow ranks 53rd out of 55 qualified small forwards on the defensive glass. Defensively, the team is more than four points better per 100 possessions when he's on the sideline. As a result, Thornton has seen his minutes per game diminish from 32 to 21 to 17 over the past three months.
The contracts of both Butler and Outlaw expire at the end of the season. Whether either returns remains a mystery, but the Clippers have clearly signaled that the team's future at the small forward position lies with someone other than Thornton. He carries a $2.8 million salary into the 2010-11 -- not terrible for a team looking for a little scoring off the bench. Can the Clippers sell that to a buyer? They'd certainly like to.
The changing of the guard
According to sources, Steve Blake has interested the Clippers in the past. Bringing him to Los Angeles gives the team another option at the point guard and allows them to banish Sebastian Telfair to the end of the bench, if they so choose, once Telfair returns from injury. Telfair has a player option of $2.7 million for next season, something the Clippers would prefer he not exercise. A demotion to third-string (or even fourth-string) point guard and a series of DNP-CDs might encourage Telfair to seek employment elsewhere next season and free up additional cap space for the Clips.
No longer a backwater?
There was an interesting little morsel buried inside an early report of the trade by Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
Marcus Camby was devastated to be leaving the Clippers.
Here's Camby, unanimously regarded as one of the NBA's classy elders, disappointed to be leaving the lottery-bound Clippers for a basketball mecca in Portland, where he'll compete in front of a packed house and probably play in the postseason. When we consider Maurice Taylor literally gave Clippers fans the finger less than a decade ago on his way out of town, Camby's sentiment speaks volumes about the state of the franchise in 2010. The Clippers may be underachieving and somewhat dysfunctional. They're not going to be the marquee act in town any time soon. But they're no longer the place where talent goes to die.
As the Clippers head into the 2010 free agent marketplace with bundles of cap space, Camby's reaction should give Clippers fans a measure of solace.
Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA contributor to ESPN.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com and the author of ClipperBlog.