A closer look at the Marcus Camby sign-and-trade

Marcus Camby ended the 2011-12 season as a relevant big man in a league lacking such commodities, knowing he could contribute on a title contender on the final contract of his career, and still make a pretty good chunk of change doing so.

Looking at these parameters, Houston wasn’t a realistic fit. As presently constituted, the Rockets are A) not willing to sign anyone to a long term guaranteed contract, and B) not competing for a title. Thankfully, all the contenders that wanted to sign Camby were unable to do so at a price higher than the veteran’s minimum.

The result? An advantageous sign-and-trade with the Knicks that, as far as typically speck of dust deals go, was FANTASTIC for Houston. In return for roughly two months of Camby’s services, the Rockets received Jerome Jordan, Josh Harrellson, Toney Douglas, a second round pick in 2014, and a second round pick in 2015. Let’s break this haul down, shall we?

First things first, let’s look at the incoming contracts. Harrellson and Jordan are two young big men with just about no NBA experience, but both of their deals are non-guaranteed. If Daryl Morey wants, he can either waive them and never pay a dime, or sign them to one-year, $762,000 contracts (the league minimum for players with one year of experience).

These two probably won’t evolve into a Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar duo, but what they do provide is financial flexibility, which is always a good thing when your roster is constantly drifting on rocky waters.

The third player involved here is Toney Douglas, a point guard who never really learned how to play point guard. What pops out to me about his inclusion here is this: THE KNICKS WILL BE PAYING HIS SALARY NEXT SEASON. That’s $2.1 million that the Rockets would have to spend but don’t, because somehow, someway Daryl Morey convinced the Knicks that they should pay a guy who hardly contributed on their team last season, to wear a different jersey next season.

(In a way, the Knicks unofficially amnestied Douglas; his salary comes off their books, but they’re still paying out his contract—except if they amnestied him, the Rockets would have had to place a bid, allowing New York to only pay the difference between whatever Houston offered to pay and his total salary. The scenario that played out in reality works out much better for the Rockets.)

Douglas isn’t quite good enough to have the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” apply—because he’s still kind of on the trashy side—but he happens to play a position that the Rockets need filled right away. And he’s free.

The most interesting part, at least to me, is that all this comes after Houston gave New York a headache with some unsubtle poking of Jeremy Lin early last week. To convince New York to pay a departing player’s salary AFTER ruffling their feathers is brilliant negotiation, and a microcosm of the fundamental reason why I’m unconditionally in support of Daryl Morey.

All Houston’s trades until (a) superstar(s) is/are required can’t really be analyzed as anything but a means to the end. This deal is certainly a well thought out means. The two draft picks probably won’t pan out, but they’re better than nothing in any future proposed trade to a team trying to rebuild. But if a blockbuster deal is NOT struck between now and the beginning of next season there still shouldn’t be any reason to panic.

If next season’s trade deadline passes with the roster still resembling interchangeable parts and hopeful prospects on rookie contracts, then we know the Rockets are probably “tanking” the 2012-13 season in attempt to have two lottery picks (their own and Toronto’s) in next year’s draft, plus a few guys who will hopefully pan out (White, Jones, and Lamb could all become important players someday) to include in a gigantic deal for Superstar X.

It might not be Dwight Howard, but at this point any perennial All-Star will do (Andrew Bynum or Kevin Love anybody?). The construction of a champion takes time, and so far Morey is somehow managing to do everything he can while remaining patient.

Looking ahead to Courtney Lee’s status—which will almost definitely result in another sign-and-trade situation—if something can be worked out with Boston (maybe a package centered around JaJuan Johnson and Charlotte’s second round pick in next year’s draft) then even more possibilities will be sprinkled into the mix.

As trades like the one just made with New York show, the Rockets are simultaneously being aggressive and surveying landscape from the sideline. So far, it’s been an admirable ride.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

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