Column: Camby already looks good as a Blazer

Marcus Camby as a Trail Blazer: It already looks and feels right.

If the sight of Camby trading jokes with fellow ageless wonder Juwan Howard wasn’t enough, the beaming smile on the face of Blazers coach Nate McMillan said it all. So did the view of Camby and Howard playfully teasing rookie Jeff Pendergraph as the trio traded shots at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, Ore.

Thursday was Day One for Camby in black and red. He aced it.

Professional, polished and pristine, Camby fit in as only a widely respected, often-praised 14-year NBA veteran can.

Brandon Roy, Portland’s $80-million man with a $2 hamstring, said Camby was a natural. Funny thing: That’s the same name Roy was given not too long ago.

Roy also referred to Camby as a presence. Then The Natural ran down the list of Camby’s attributes: defense with a capital D; weak-side help; shotblocking; screens; pick-and-rolls. Old-school basketball; the game played the right way.

“He fits in perfectly with what we’re trying to do,” Roy said.

But what makes Camby a perfect fit is not fundamentals. It’s his knowledge. And he was already passing on years upon years of experience to his new teammates Thursday morning, despite having taken two 6 a.m. flights in a 24-hour period as he transported his life from Los Angeles to Portland.

Camby called out plays and shifted bodies around. Twice, he yelled “Get on the floor!” in a statement that was part-challenge, part-encouragement. And when rookie guard Patty Mills drove in for an easy layup, Camby reacted like all big men are supposed to: he swatted the ball away and sent a strong message.

Standing up for Camby’s right to police and enforce Portland’s once-soft middle, McMillan smiled again and said, “That was not a foul.”

He added: “We need to see someone defending the basket like that.”

It’s been a while since the Blazers have had anyone with a badge patrolling the paint. Twenty-six games to be exact. With centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla dreaming of training camp, Portland was forced to play cover up.

That’s exactly what Camby will do now, McMillan said. When the Blazers fail to contain an opposing guard on the perimeter, and the fleet-footed ballhandler slices through the lane, Camby will be there. When Portland gets burned in the pick-and-roll, Camby will be there. And when the best in the West turn defensive liabilities such as Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless into victims, Camby will be waiting.

Statement of fact: Portland hasn’t had anyone like this at center in a long, long time.

Oden’s still growing and still learning. Przybilla’s a defensive beast, but offense has never been his game. Camby? He’s for real.

So real that McMillan has found the light again. After watching his young, limitless team ripped apart by injuries, McMillan never publicly wavered. All season, he said the right things and walked straight ahead. But Camby changes the Blazers, and McMillan knows it.

“It’s a good group. It’s a team that’s moving forward and trying to get better and do some good things,” McMillan said. “And we feel like in the future, we’ve got a shot at winning big here. So, this is a good situation.”

Suddenly, the situation is right. Now Camby and the Blazers just have to deliver.

Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or Read his Blazer Banter blog at Follow him on Twitter at


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