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Nuggets put chip on his shoulder

The newest Clipper appears to be a straight shooter, which is always desirable for a pro basketball player.

Monday afternoon, at a news conference, Marcus Camby stood tall, all 6 feet 11, in his bright red vest. He looked everybody in the eye and didn’t duck the hard stuff.

Yes, he was personally offended by how the Denver Nuggets handled his trade. Yes, he had told the Denver media he was shocked and insulted when told of it. No misquotes there.

And yes, while he understands that the NBA is a business, he will take a while to recover from being abruptly dispatched from a city that had become his home and a team that had become his family.

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Especially upsetting to Camby were the terms. In return for a player who was their center and among the leading shot-blockers and defensive forces in the league -- defensive player of the year in 2006-07 -- Denver got the option of exchanging second-round draft picks with the Clippers in 2010.

That meant several things:

* That Denver, with 50 wins last year and a quick 4-0 exit to the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, is banking on Camby making the Clippers worse in the next two seasons, the last two on his contract. The lower the Clippers sink in the standings, the better Denver’s draft choice becomes.

* That even then, Denver couldn’t have cared too deeply about the deal because, as Camby said, about the usual future of second-round picks, “They’ll probably get somebody who won’t make the team, anyway.”

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* That, after 12 years in the league, the Nuggets disrespected his value. The question was put to him directly. Did he think they gave him away for nothing? He took a deep breath and answered: “Yes.”

* That, like most things in life and everything in the NBA, this was all about money.

The anatomy of the deal was actually quite quick and easy, except for the pain it caused Camby.

Elton Brand and Corey Maggette said goodbye to the Clippers, suddenly leaving Donald Sterling, Andy Roeser and Elgin Baylor with money to spend under their salary cap. That was still the case, even after the Clippers owner, president and general manager had invested a bundle on unrestricted free agent and next season’s star-in-waiting, Baron Davis, to get him from Golden State.

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Coach Mike Dunleavy was working on a deal for Atlanta’s Josh Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward and restricted free agent. The restricted part means that, were the Clippers to tender an offer, Atlanta could -- and in this case probably would -- match it. At the same time, there were talks with the Nuggets about Camby, the acquisition of whom made Dunleavy giddy.

“When we heard the deal was done,” he said, “I jumped pretty high, and I’ve got a bad knee.”

Denver was looking for salary-cap space, meaning they had to unload something costly, and Camby, at age 34, was it.

Denver gained roughly $40 million worth of cap space when he left. The Clippers told the Nuggets they were about to tender the offer to Smith and once they did, their interest in helping Denver’s financial ledger would diminish greatly. Hours later, Denver said goodbye to Camby and hello to new fiscal flexibility.

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That part is understandable to Camby.

“I know this is a business,” he said. “I’ve been traded twice before. I’ve got a thick skin. I played in New York. Your skin can’t get any thicker than that.”

The part he didn’t like, in addition to terms of the trade that made it look to the guy on the street as if they let him go for a Snickers bar, was how it was handled.

“Nobody called, nobody said anything,” he said. “The day before I was told, I was with plenty of team people who could have given me a heads-up. I found out when my agent called me.”

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The Clippers, of course, consider this was a great acquisition. Camby averaged 13.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks a game last season, along with 9.1 points on a team that had more gunners than a field full of duck hunters. Dunleavy said Camby will be the power forward alongside incumbent center, and strong rebounder, Chris Kaman.

Camby is especially adept at helping out and clogging the middle on defense, a skill born of necessity on the Nuggets, a team that features several players who have never guarded anything closely except their wallets. We won’t name names, but two of them are spelled Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony.

Dunleavy laughed when Camby talked about his former teammates, how much he will miss them and how much they said they’d miss him.

“They should miss him,” the coach said. “He saved their [butts] every night.”

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Now, the only question remaining is whether he can do the same for the Clippers.

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.


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