This Lockout Sucks: Marcus Camby Edition

Photo by bobaubuchon on Flickr

 

This lockout sucks for a lot of people. It sucks for every fan and everyone whose job depends on NBA games being played. It sucks for the draftees who have been on the court today if they’d stayed in school. It sucks for the fringe players we rarely hear about. But lately I’ve been thinking of the vets: I hate that we’ll likely miss out one of Steve Nash’s final years, I hate that Kobe’s pursuit of rings and records will likely be put on hold, and I hate that I’m wondering if San Antonio will still be a contender when Tim Duncan is 36 and Manu Ginobili is 35. It’s not just the Hall of Famers I’m worried about, though — it’s possible we’ve seen the last of guys like Jermaine O’Neal, Antonio McDyess, and one of my favorite players: Marcus Camby.

I can’t think of Camby without thinking of his early years in Toronto. He was a lanky rookie, but with his shot-blocking ability and the way he ran the floor, pairing him with ROY Damon Stoudamire seemed like a sure bet. As a kid, I loved his dunks and blocks and the fact that when I ran down to the floor area before games at the SkyDome he’d fist-bump me and ask, “What’s up?” For scouts, his ability to cover ground on defense was probably more important.

I saw Camby dunk all over the Sixers when they came to town in his rookie year. In his second year, I saw something slightly different happen in what turned out to be his final game with the team. When he was sidelined with injuries, I argued with my friends who insisted that the Raptors should have taken Shareef Abdur-Rahim ahead of him. Nobody seemed to care that he was leading the league in blocked shots, as they’d heard people calling him “Cotton Camby” and decided he was too soft. No one I knew was upset when he was traded to the Knicks for Charles Oakley.

In retrospect, the move was likely a good for both teams scenario. Still, I’ve had a soft spot for him since those days and felt vindicated when he leaped out of Jeff Van Gundy’s doghouse in the 1999 playoffs. It’s been great to see him transform his reputation — while he was once known as immature, soft, and lazy, he’s now considered one of the league’s most professional people and a steadying influence on and off the court. I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy for a DPOY winner as I was for him in 2007. Last year, though, he struggled through injuries and had his least productive season in years, per-minute and otherwise. On defense, whether it was his age or his health, his rotations weren’t quite as quick as we’re used to. Offensively, he’s never been much of a creator, but his usage rate plummeted to 11.7%. Heading into the last year of his contract in 2011-2012, we were meant to be asking if he could return to his 2009-2010 form and if Portland was going to end up trading him to a contender. Now, if the season is gone, we have to ask if he’ll still even be in the league.

Camby will be 38 at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season. If this lockout isn’t resolved relatively soon, he’ll have just missed out on $12.8 million. As a free agent, he’ll probably be able to chase a ring somewhere, but he might not play significant minutes. At that point, he might just decide it’s time to try to become an elementary school principal. If the next time I see him on TV I’m watching his retirement announcement or he’s struggling to get up and down the floor, it’s going to feel extremely sudden. That would be such a shame.

Seth Carstens