PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers finally have a healthy center.
After playing 25 consecutive games without a legitimate big man, Portland acquired former Los Angeles Clippers center Marcus Camby on Tuesday morning.
To add Camby, the Blazers traded guard Steve Blake and forward Travis Outlaw to the Clippers.
Camby said he was initially reluctant to leave Los Angeles and frustrated about facing another life change. But after being overwhelmed by the support of Blazer fans while he walked around Portland on Tuesday, Camby said he is already warming up to his new home.
“Everyone seems to be enthusiastic about it, and so am I,” said Camby, during a press conference prior to the Blazers’ game Tuesday versus the Clippers at the Rose Garden.
He added: “From my 14 years coming in as the opposition, I always marveled at how the fans got behind the team and how the whole city really rallied around the team, with the Trail Blazers being the only main attraction here in town.”
Blazers coach Nate McMillan said Camby would ideally take over Portland’s starting center role Friday against Boston. But McMillan cautioned that Camby’s transition to his new surroundings will take time, adding that he first must set down with Camby to discuss mutual goals.
Still, McMillan praised Camby’s basketball intelligence, experience and leadership skills. And Portland’s coach said the addition of Camby is exactly what the Blazers need as they attempt to make a late-season push for a Western Conference playoff spot.
Heading into Tuesday’s contest against the Clippers, the Blazers held down the eighth spot in the West and were ranked fourth out of five teams in the Northwest Division, five games behind first-place Denver. Twenty-six regular season games remain for Portland.
“We feel like adding him to the roster gives us a shot at staying in this race,” McMillan said.
The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Camby fills a void created by season-ending knee injuries to Portland centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla.
Camby, 35, averaged 7.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 blocks for the Clippers this season. He ranks second in the NBA in rebounds and sixth in blocks.
Throughout his 14-year NBA career, Camby has averaged 10.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 808 games. He was the NBA defensive player of the year in 2006-07, and is one of only 11 players in league history to record at least 7,000 rebounds and 2,000 blocked shots. In addition, Camby is a two-time NBA All-defensive team selection.
Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said the decision to acquire Camby was a reward for the heart and will an injury-plagued Blazers team has shown while fighting to stay in the playoff picture.
Portland has missed 252 games due to injury this season. And while everyone from All-Star guard Brandon Roy to rookies Jeff Pendergraph and Patty Mills have been inactive for significant periods of time, the Blazers have been hit hardest at the center position. Forwards LaMarcus Aldridge, Juwan Howard, Dante Cunningham and Pendergraph have all been forced to hold down the middle with Oden and Przybilla out of the lineup.
“(Camby) is a dynamic defensive player that affects the game on that side of the ball as well as anybody in this league,” Pritchard said. “And as you’ve seen in the last 10-15 games, our defense has suffered, but offensively we’ve been pretty good.”
Pritchard said the team was not renting out Camby for 27 games, despite having Oden and Przybilla under contract.
Camby is set to make $9.1 million this season and is in the final year of his deal.
Right now, Camby and the Blazers are “dating,” Pritchard said. And while the remainder of the 2009-10 season will be used to evaluate Camby’s place on the team, Portland’s GM said the organization always rewards players who deliver on and off the court.
While Camby’s addition was greeted with a positive reception, a darker tone surrounded the departure of Blake and Outlaw.
Pritchard said he spoke with both players Tuesday morning, and described their reaction to the news of the trade as “sad.”
Blake and Outlaw held key roles in guiding Portland out of the Jail Blazers-era and into a new period filled with optimism and prosperity.
Outlaw had been with Portland since 2003, and was previously the longest tenured player on the team’s roster.
Like the Blazers, though, Outlaw’s season had not met original expectations. He fractured his left foot Nov. 14 against Charlotte, missing 44 consecutive games as a result. He was scheduled to return to action Sunday against Utah prior to the trade.
Outlaw was also Roy’s closest friend on the team. Asked about Outlaw’s departure, a less-than-upbeat Roy said he was still processing the news.
“I think this is the first time I really lost somebody that was my best friend,” Roy said.
Meanwhile, Blake played four seasons (2005-06, 2007-10) for the Blazers. His best year came in 2008-09, when he averaged career highs in points (11.0) and 3-point shooting percentage (42.8), while dishing out 5.0 assists.
But Blake’s performance has been uneven this year. Averaging 7.6 points, 4.0 assists and shooting 40.3 percent from the field, Blake went through a slump that he described as the worst of his career.
He was also diagnosed with pneumonia in early January, and missed four games after being hospitalized.
Nevertheless, McMillan and Pritchard went out of their way to praise the contributions Blake and Outlaw made to the Blazers. While Pritchard paid tribute to their character and talent, McMillan said the fact that Portland had to deal away Blake and Outlaw to obtain Camby was “bittersweet.”
“You know you’re letting go (of) two class acts,” McMillan said.
Marcus Camby, Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw all hold expiring contracts. Camby is set to make $9.1 million this season, which is $1.5 million more than the combined contracts of Blake ($4 million) and Outlaw ($3.6 million). To offset the difference, Portland used $1.2 million in available salary-cap space, while also sending the Clippers an unspecified amount of cash. The monetary value of the Blazers’ roster is now above the salary cap, but the value is not prohibitive.
Vitals: 6-foot-11, 235 pounds
Stats: 7.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 blocked shots
Career: 10.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks
Highlights: 2006-07 NBA defensive player of the year; two-time All-NBA defensive team
Stats: 7.6 points, 4.0 assists, 2.3 rebounds
Career: 7.6 points, 4.2 assists, 2.1 rebounds
With Blazers: 2005-06, 2007-10
Stats: 9.9 points, 3.5 rebounds
Career: 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds
With Blazers: 2003-10
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