Puzzling at first glance, the Camby deal works for both sides

At first the Nuggets-Clippers trade is a bit of a head-scratcher -- Marcus Camby for the right to exchange No. 2 picks in 2010? Isn't he worth more than that? Heck, isn't pretty much anyone worth more than that?

Well, he is worth more than that, of course ... except if you're trying to cut costs, which the Nuggets rather clearly are, and have four other players that also make in excess of $10 million per season, and are trying to retain a fifth key player (J.R. Smith) who is a restricted free agent. In that event, having Camby around starts to look like a bit of a luxury.

From the Clippers' end, this trade starts out as a bit of a head-scratcher, too. Shouldn't they have tried to use their cap space on bigger fry (say, Josh Smith or Emeka Okafor) before they went after the likes of Camby? And since they were the only team with cap space, wouldn't this deal still have been available three weeks from now if Smith's and/or Okafor's teams matched the Clippers' offer sheet?

Ultimately, however, the needs of both sides made this trade sensible for each.

The Clips can get their man right away and have some cap money left over to flesh out the roster -- not a minor consideration given their current lack of depth (L.A. only has eight players under contract). By plucking Camby instead of making a larger offer to Smith or Okafor, they have about $3 million in cap space left to snag another body before they're limited to minimum salaries. And if they had waited for the process with Smith and Okafor to play out before dealing for Camby, most of the desirable free agents for the bench slots would have been gone.

While Camby is no Elton Brand, he's not such a shabby replacement, either. Put him out there with Chris Kaman, Baron Davis, Al Thornton and Cuttino Mobley, and the Clips remain respectable. Not a playoff team perhaps, and certainly miles away from title contention, but a decent team that can expect to hang around the .500 mark.

That Camby does this without harming their cap for future seasons is also helpful -- in fact the Clippers are one of the teams that could have a raft of cap space available for the much-anticipated 2010 free-agent class, and picking up Camby does nothing to alter that since he only has two years left on his deal.

From Denver's side, the only way the Nuggets could shed costs for the coming season was to make a trade with a team under the salary cap. The Clippers and Grizzlies were the only such teams, and the Grizz aren't exactly chomping at the bit to spend their money, especially not on a 35-year-old with a history of injuries. So the Clippers basically had the market cornered and could name their price, which in this case was darn near nothing.

Certainly, this trade was a bit of a capitulation -- an acknowledgment that the Iverson-Anthony core, as presently constructed, isn't championship material and therefore not worth the substantial investment in luxury tax required to maintain it.

However, it also positions Denver to rearm in multiple ways, and one gets the impression it won't be the last move the Nuggets make this summer.

For starters, Denver still has the option of using the $10 million trade exception generated in the deal. Theoretically the Nuggets could use it right away, but more likely they will hang on to it until next year's draft and see who becomes available because using it now will cost them $20 million once the luxury tax is factored in.

The other way Denver could go would be to get under the cap for 2009, which seems like where they might be headed given some of this summer's other moves (trading their first-round pick, not re-signing Eduardo Najera). Take away the $10 million owed Camby and the expiring deals of Allen Iverson and Chucky Atkins, and Denver could find itself well under the salary cap if it follows through with a couple of secondary moves (paying somebody to take Steven Hunter, for instance). That would allow the Nuggets to rebuild on the fly around their twentysomethings, including Anthony (24), Smith (22), Nene (25) and Linas Kleiza (23), while adding a high-priced star to replace Iverson.

For now, however, this move certainly weakens the Nuggets on the court. Camby's shot-blocking made up for a ton of horrific mistakes by Iverson, Smith and Anthony on the perimeter, so Denver's defensive numbers should slide.

While Nene should improve on Camby's offensive numbers if he makes a healthy return from testicular cancer, he's arguably an even greater health risk than Camby at this point and isn't a shot-blocker. Additionally, the loss of Najera puts even more pressure on Nene to stay healthy. At the moment, he, Martin and Hunter are the only big men on Denver's roster.

That last item points to another possibility -- that the Nuggets may play even smaller and faster than they did a year ago by frequently employing Anthony or Kleiza as the power forward. Unfortunately, Camby's mobility made that style possible without too great a defensive cost. Without him, it appears the Nuggets may be taking a step back into the West's second tier.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.