DENVER -- Now that Marcus Camby is the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, he's looking ahead -- and behind.
The Denver Nuggets' 33-year-old center said that while he cherishes winning the award for the first time in his 11-year pro career, he'd much rather be celebrating a championship in a couple of months.
That's not an unusual refrain from winners of the NBA's individual awards.
But how many get to use the occasion to take a jab at those who excluded him from the All-Star team?
"It's kind of ironic how I can win the award and not make the All-Star team," Camby said Friday. "The last couple of years I felt I had a great opportunity to be on that team. So, hopefully, next year with this award behind me, I can start getting some recognition about being on that team.
"It's a great honor to be on the All-Star team, and I've never made it."
Camby is the third player in the last 20 years to win defensive player award after an All-Star snub.
Camby averaged a league-best 3.3 blocks to go with 11.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. He also averaged 1.24 steals, tops among centers. He received 70 first-place votes and 431 points from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
"All I can say is he deserved it," teammate Carmelo Anthony
said. "It's a luxury playing with a big man like that, knowing that if you get beat, he's going to be back there. So, it helps you push up on your man a little bit harder."
Camby also led the league in blocks last season and in 1997-98. He is one behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mark Eaton for the most
blocked shot titles. Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Theo Ratliff
and George Johnson also led the league in blocks three times.
San Antonio forward Bruce Bowen was second with 206 points, while Spurs teammate Tim Duncan had 158 points and finished third. Bowen also was runner-up last year, when Ben Wallace won the award for the fourth time.
The Nuggets and Spurs are tied at a game each in their Western Conference first-round series, with Game 3 set for Saturday night in Denver.
Bowen joked that at least he finished above Duncan again, but there was no hiding his disappointment.
"It's just one of many things that you can continue to strive for," Bowen said. "And I think it's important that you try to find something positive in any situation in life. And this is the game that we play and I'm constantly telling kids how they have to give their best effort and things of that nature. Well, it goes for me as well. If I don't attain a goal that I'd like to attain, I still have to keep plugging away."
Spurs point guard Tony Parker said Camby was so dominant and deserving that "it's hard for me to complain. And at the same time Bruce, every year he finishes second. So you kind of wonder when he's going to win. At least one time. Because he's getting old. ... So I feel a little bit sad for him on that point, but I think Marcus Camby deserves it. I think he's a great defender."
Camby's steady play on defense was about the only constant in another season of turmoil in Denver. The Nuggets were dogged by suspensions, trades, injuries and illnesses before finally finding a rhythm and going a franchise-best 10-1 in April to secure a fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
"We at times can be a very bad defensive team and he has made us look very good many nights because of that," coach George Karl said. "Recently we're starting to play better and it looks like we're relieving him of some of the headaches that he has to cover up for."
Karl said he's never had a better defender in his 19 seasons as an NBA coach.
"When Marcus is on one of those nights where he's roaming around taking away everything, it's pretty intimidating," Karl said. "I've not been around a player that can intimidate a game with his defensive and rebounding the way Marcus can, my whole career.
"I had the honor to be with Gary when Gary Payton won the award [in 1996] and we were a very good defensive team that created a lot of turnovers in Seattle, but never an intimidating factor."