I know, I know. We’re six games into the post-trade deadline NBA season and already we are second guessing. The point of this is not to stir up some pointless argument in hopes of manufacturing revisionist history. Let’s just ask a couple questions and look at results based on small and incomplete sample sizes.
The trade of Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw for Marcus Camby was, despite the Blazers not being in title contention, easily qualified as a win-now deal. The idea being that you extend the season into the playoffs, continue the good mojo from last season and keep getting the core group experience on the big stage. Nothing wrong with that. A first-round playoff exit is still much more valuable for a young team on the upswing than a lottery choice with poor odds of reaching the Top 3. And the Blazers needed a center, preferably for cheap, so boom, Camby. For two players who probably weren’t coming back to Portland — and also clearing a minutes logjam — nobody can argue it was a bad deal for Kevin Pritchard and the Blazers.
But was going with a veteran rental when you are not in the class of the top teams in the league the right deal? In six games, an obvious adjustment period when Camby has shown some rusty offense while also adding most of the things his history promised, here are his numbers:
PER 11.8, eFG% .323, Offensive Rebounding Percentage 15.6, Defensive Rebounding Percentage 20.1, Total Rebounding Percentage 17.9, Block Percentage 7.9, Offensive Rating 87, Defensive Rating 99
While his block percentage is slightly better, all those numbers are below his career averages. But, who cares? I have little doubt that Camby will become more consistent as the games go on — he’s been too good over his career and in this season to suffer a sudden dropoff in talent and ability. And if he doesn’t gradually improve, there’s no way anyone could have predicted that would happen, particularly when there was such a gaping hole at the center spot. Camby himself isn’t the problem, nor can he control the fact that he won’t be an important factor in future playoff runs. Let’s leave him alone.
Now let’s look at Tyrus Thomas, who we know was available at the deadline with the Chicago Bulls because he was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats for the expiring contracts of a point guard, Acie Law, a wing scorer, Flip Murray, and a very protected first-round draft pick. Sound a little like what Portland gave up? While we have no idea if the Blazers could have actually acquired Thomas, it’s not far fetched to think the Blazers could have offered the same package to Chicago that they gave the Clippers and actually given the Bulls more cap space this summer by taking back a little less salary (the Bulls had the smaller contracts to do this). Maybe they wouldn’t have had to give up a protected first-rounder, either.
Assuming the Blazers could have acquired Thomas, who is bound for restricted free agency, for a similar price, might he have been a better option? It didn’t take an oracle to predict that he would have benefited from a change in scenery with a chance to prove himself before going on the market. Still, he had his attitude problems in Chicago and doesn’t have a reputation as the most cerebral player. This is what he is doing in six games for Larry Brown (in very comparable minutes to Camby so we don’t have to use per-36 minute numbers):
PER 22.1, eFG% .542, Offensive Rebounding Percentage 7.5, Defensive Rebounding Percentage 27.2, Total Rebounding Percentage 17.4, Block Percentage 9.6, Offensive Rating 106, Defensive Rating 93
Again, tiny sample sizes, but Camby has been a better offensive rebounder — something the Blazers have always been strong, and need to be strong, at — but otherwise Thomas has the edge in the other categories. So far, the new environment has been a positive. And though Camby is the more traditional center and Thomas would force Aldridge to play the five — where he’s been more effective in fewer minutes — this season, Thomas offers many of the same on-court skills with more energy and explosiveness at the cost of experience and general hoops wherewithal.
Now, is it possible Camby ends up with equal number as a Blazers than Thomas as a Bobcat? Sure. Is it possible Camby ends up with better numbers? Absolutely. Camby also, despite not being the greatest one-on-one defender, is probably the better bet to take into the playoffs this year. But what are you left with in May?
With Camby, you have the rights to possibly re-sign or sign-and-trade a very good 35-year old center. He is not going to be a big part of the team’s future, even if he re-signed for a couple years. By the time the Blazers are ready to be contenders, he, like Andre Miller, will probably be on his way out, if not before then.
With Thomas, you have the rights to extend a one-year qualifying offer to, sign-and-trade or match any offer sheet given to a 23-year old power forward. He has a chance to be a part of the team’s future as a backup power forward, should that be a role Nate can mold him into, and be a contributor during playoff runs, hopefully maturing in a more structured system (hardly a guarantee). But if you keep him, what does that do to Dante Cunningham? Is it realistic for Thomas to excel in a backup role at this stage in his career? Maybe not. At the very least, with a couple months of good play and behavior from Thomas, you have a significant asset to play with. That way of thinking could be too 2007, but the Camby way of thinking could also be too 2012.
As much as I appreciate what Camby can and probably will add to the Blazers season — very possibly being the difference between the playoffs and the lottery — the second option sounds a little better. Of course, we can’t go back and change anything. The deal is done. That’s fine. But it’s worth taking account of individual moves as part of the grand plan and exploring other perspectives, even if we arrive at the same conclusions.
And remember, the Blazers will have the contracts of Miller and Joel Przybilla to play with next season, and they’ll be faced with many of the same choices that they were this February.