After years on Portland’s radar, Camby becomes a Blazer

Marcus Camby had been on the Trail Blazers’ radar for years.

From afar, Portland’s executives, coaches and scouts had admired Camby’s defensive talents and overall game. Up close, the Blazers had witnessed Camby alter shots, command the paint, and at times single-handedly affect the outcome of a contest by blending a high basketball intelligence with passion and desire.

But after years of viewing Camby from a distance with respect and awe, Portland made an unexpected move last week that turned the 14-year veteran from a well-respected nemesis into one of Rip City’s own.

The Blazers traded Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and cash considerations to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Camby.

In doing so, Portland gave away two key players that helped guide the franchise from the NBA’s doghouse to the penthouse in just five years. In return, the Blazers acquired a long-desired athlete who could become one of the essential pieces that eventually helps move the organization closer to its first NBA title since 1977.

“We’re looking forward to this relationship,” general manager Kevin Pritchard said. “As we grow as a team, he certainly brings a wealth of knowledge.”

New deal

The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Camby is averaging 7.6 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks this season. And the former NBA defensive player of the year gives Portland an inside presence the team has lacked since centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla were lost for the season following knee injuries.

But while Camby’s on-the-court talents are his primary attributes, the former Massachusetts standout’s character and professionalism also played a significant role in allowing the Blazers to pull the trigger.

While a multitude of possible deals were passed Portland’s way in the weeks leading up to the NBA trade deadline last Thursday, only a few were considered legitimate by the organization. Out of those few, the lone move the Blazers made was in acquiring Camby.

“After weighing the players involved and the future and what it can do for us now and what it means to us later, I thought the deal made sense for us,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said.

However, Portland’s push to obtain Camby runs contrary to how the team has operated in recent seasons.

Since recording a franchise-low 21 victories in 2005-06, the Blazers have emphasized young talent over high-priced veterans. And if the Blazers made a move, it had been an under-the-radar deal that saw high-mileage players exchanged for either draft rights or draft picks.

“I think if you make major changes, they should be in the summer,” Pritchard said. “There’s time: Your coach has an opportunity to feel it out and have a lot of input.”

The trade for Camby marked a sea of change, though.

While Portland still possesses one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, the Blazers have begun to surround potential and promise with proven talent. Camby joins forward Juwan Howard and point guard Andre Miller as well-respected, low-key, basketball-first veterans who have spent 10 years or more in the league.

“Veterans seem to trade better than young guys, because veterans know the game,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “They probably know (their new team) well. And then the most important part is the ‘want to.’ You have to want to fit in. And when you get that with the right locker room, you can make a trade at any time and it’ll work.”

McMillan said the addition of Camby, Miller and Howard during a single season is not coincidence. Each player still has game. And each brings invaluable intangibles such as leadership, experience and confidence that can be passed down to young Blazers such as Oden, Jerryd Bayless, Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham.

But while Miller and Howard were acquired last summer through free agency, it was Portland’s abundant wealth of young talent that allowed the team to make the push for a player it had long desired.

“Eventually you’re going to have to use some of those players to get someone like Miller, Howard or Camby,” McMillan said. “You’ve got to give up a guy or two to do that.”

New player

A year’s worth of research and scouting provided the Blazers with a sense of safety and security when the opportunity to acquire Camby arose.

When the 2009-10 season started, Camby was one of about 125 players on Portland’s radar. As the season wore on and injuries took a toll on the Blazers, though, Portland’s focus narrowed. But while Camby was always desired, he was not seen as a viable option until the past month.

Then the real scouting began. Every game Camby played in was graded; every move he made was observed and documented. During a two-week period leading up to the trade deadline, the Blazers picked apart every possible aspect of Camby’s performance, career and character.

“We put so much emphasis on who we bring in, that any deal you do, you don’t want to just lose him,” Pritchard said. “Because we know (who) they are. We’ve done our homework.”

However, it was not until a two-day period surrounding the All-Star break that Camby wearing black and red became a real possibility. And even then, there was as much uncertainty surrounding the veteran’s future in Los Angeles as there was a chance he could truly become a Blazer. Camby was told either he or young Clippers center DeAndre Jordan would be in L.A. team after the break, not both.

“No one (knew) what was really going on,” Camby said.

But everything changed Feb. 14, when Camby received a call from his agent wondering how he would feel about playing in Portland.

Last Monday night, Camby as a Blazer became a reality.

“Once the reality hits, your initial reaction is, like, ‘Wow,’ ” Camby said. “All of these emotions start running through your head. And it’s, like, ‘I don’t have any extra clothes.’ ‘I’m going to miss my former teammates.’ ‘How do I leave my kids in school?’ ”

But after the initial shock, Portland started to feel right to Camby. Everything from friendships with former teammates Miller and Howard to the warmness and kindness of the organization’s employees and fans made a strong, positive impression.

And after years of longing and months of research, the Blazers finally had their man.

“I expect to be here an extended period of time,” Camby said. “Not just these (24) games that are left.”

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Position: Center

Year: 14

Age: 35

Vitals: 6-foot-11, 235 pounds

Stats: 7.6 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks

College: Massachusetts

Camby’s career:

1996-98 Toronto

1998-2002 New York Knicks

2002-08 Denver

2008-10 Los Angeles Clippers

2010-present Portland

Blazers’ recent trade deadline moves:

Tuesday — Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and monetary considerations to Los Angeles Clippers for Marcus Camby

Feb. 9, 2004 — Rasheed Wallace and Wesley Person to Atlanta for Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Dan Dickau and Theo Ratliff

Feb. 13, 1998 — Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, Alvin Williams, two first-round picks and second-round pick to Toronto for Damon Stoudamire, Walt Williams, Carlos Rogers and monetary considerations

Feb. 14, 1995 — Clyde Drexler and Tracy Murray to Houston for Otis Thorpe, draft rights and first-round pick

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