Clippers fill their tallest order

Times Staff Writer

It’s the biggest rebound of the year for the Clippers. And, arguably, the most dramatic in their tortured history.

One week after the heart and soul of their team, possibly their most skilled, most respected and most beloved player, Elton Brand, walked out on them, along with Corey Maggette, their leading scorer, the Clippers obtained an imposing substitute in 6-foot-11, 235-pound Marcus Camby.

Camby, the NBA defensive player of the year in 2006-07, was obtained from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for a conditional second-round draft pick in 2010.

The pick is conditional because it gives the Nuggets the right to exchange picks with the Clippers in that second round. If, however, the Clippers have the lower pick and Denver chooses to pass on the opportunity, there would be no further compensation.


In other words, the Clippers may have gotten Camby for nothing. And the Lakers thought they got a steal in obtaining Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies last season.

“This is the perfect fit for our team,” Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said of the 34-year-old Camby, a 12-year veteran who last season led the NBA in blocked shots (3.61) for the third straight season.

Brand, thought to be returning after the Clippers reached a verbal agreement with free agent guard Baron Davis, instead signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Maggette signed with the Golden State Warriors.

Suddenly, what had looked to be a promising future for the Clippers appeared instead to be a throwback to their dismal past.

“We needed to bounce back,” Dunleavy conceded. “We thought we had a great plan in place and it went awry. What was important was how quickly we could make another move. What happened to us was demoralizing. Now we have something to build on.”

The Clippers had been exploring the possibility of extending an offer sheet to either Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith or Charlotte Bobcats center-forward Emeka Okafor, both restricted free agents. But Camby’s contract, which leaves the Clippers only about $2 million below the salary cap, apparently eliminates those options.

For Denver, the deal will help a team determined to drop below the tipping point for the luxury tax. Counting Camby and Anthony Carter, who is expected to sign with the Nuggets, Denver has guaranteed contracts for nine players totaling more than $79 million, $8 million above the luxury-tax trigger point.

Camby’s cap number for each of the remaining two years on his contract is $10 million. He has a base salary of $8 million and could make as much as $11.7 million if all his incentive bonuses are realized.

“It was a total shock,” Camby said of the trade via e-mail. “I really loved Denver. It became my home. It will be especially hard to leave behind the kids I worked with in the community through my Cambyland Foundation.”

Said Camby’s agent, Rick Kaplan: “Marcus knew they were cutting payroll, but he thought they were committed to winning instead of just saving money.”

Camby is coming off a season in which he averaged 13.1 rebounds and 34.9 minutes in 79 games. All those numbers are career highs. Camby averaged a league-leading 18.0 rebounds per 48 minutes, and 9.1 points per game.

“We now have two excellent shot blockers,” Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor said, referring to a front court that will feature Camby and Chris Kaman. “And two players capable of producing double figures in points and rebounds on a regular basis.”

“I am certainly not coming to replace Elton Brand,” Camby said. “Our games are completely different. The Clippers have had some ups and downs over the last few years and hopefully the team is headed in the right direction.”

Certainly a different direction than it seemed headed just a week ago.


Also on Tuesday, the Clippers signed second-round draft picks DeAndre Jordan, a center selected 35th overall, and Mike Taylor, a guard picked 55th.



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Camby’s statistics

Per-game statistics for center-forward Marcus Camby, 34. He was the NBA defensive player of the year for the 2006-07 season, and was runner-up last season to Kevin Garnett:

*--* -- 2007-08 Career Points 9.1 10.7 Rebounds 13.1 9.7 Blocks 3.6 2.6 Field-goal pct. 450 467 Free-throw pct. 708 678 *--*