Marcus Camby is about to make some serious coin for a 36 year old role player. And that's not a knock on him at all. Camby fits very well there with the Trail Blazers, who on Tuesday announced the 6-11 shot-blocker signed a two-year contract extension to remain in Portland, and there's a reason why the Knicks thought very highly of him as a free agent target this summer.
Camby's length, high IQ and athleticism made him a no-brainer for the Knicks. In fact, pairing him with Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire or even David Lee, to that matter, would have instantly made the Knicks a better interior defensive team.
A couple of stories in the New York press from a few weeks ago when we were in Portland clearly triggered this event. Serious Knicks interest, and Camby's very candid comments about coming back to New York, had to have the Blazers on the offensive. The fact that backup center Joel Przybilla's knee injury will likely keep him out for at least the start of next season also played a big part in Portland's effort to keep Camby in town. If Greg Oden can ever stay healthy, he and Camby could be a tough frontcourt tandem for anyone trying to get to the rim.
Meanwhile, that remains a serious problem for the Knicks. And with Camby now out of the picture, the focus to upgrade the interior defense will have to turn to other options available and potentially available via free agency and trades. Here are a few and keep in mind we're looking for the best fit with the style D'Antoni wants to play, so the list doesn't rank in order of best to worst, just best fit. And that's why Carlos Boozer and David Lee aren't included, because, while the Knicks certainly have them in mind at PF, neither offer much of the defensive presence to help fill that specific need. And let's assume Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming stay put.
1. Amar'e Stoudemire -- He's 7-feet and extremely athletic. No, not really great as a positional defender, but he can and does challenge shots (career-average 1.4 blocks per game). He's better as a power forward so you'd probably still need to find a center or perhaps a rugged power forward to really give you a solid frontline.
2. Chris Bosh -- Like Stoudemire, he gets shot blocks but while he is not nearly as physically tough or intimidating as Stoudemire, he is a little better positionally and smarter. But, again, even at 6-11 (listed), he's mostly a power forward, not a center and though D'Antoni likes to play small, it might be a turn-off for Bosh to be told he'd be playing center next to, say, a 6-8 player such as Wilson Chandler. That's why Camby might have been an attraction for Bosh.
3. Udonis Haslem -- Doubtful he'd leave Miami, even if it means he'd have to accept remaining in a reserve role behind a potential incoming PF such as Stoudemire, Bosh or Boozer. But Haslem is exactly what the Knicks need: tough, smart, experienced and disciplined, with a good mid-range game and a nose for defense. Put him next to Stoudemire or Bosh in New York and you're in good shape in the East.
4. Amir Johnson -- At 6-9, he's a very raw power forward with extremely long arms that, on defense, make him play 7-feet. If you put him next to a high-end big such as Bosh or Stoudemire, perhaps he can be the guy you double-off of only to worry about him catching offensive put-backs, alley-oops and getting out to fill the lane on the break. A lot of untapped potential, though not much of a fundamental foundation.
5. Tyrus Thomas -- Again, similar to Johnson in that he's really more of a power forward, but you could pair him with Bosh to offer a very long and athletic frontline. There's no question he can challenge shots with the best of them in the NBA and can also run the floor. He doesn't handle strict coaching well, so perhaps D'Antoni's approach would appeal to him. Then again, maybe it wouldn't be the best environment for a moody player like him. Offense is limited to put-backs alley-oops and cuts, but next to an all-star, that'd be all he'd get anyway.
[Note: The Knicks would likely bypass Johnson/Thomas scenarios if they opt to draft Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, a 6-9 shot-blocking specialist who is projected to be available in the second round. Varnado is a project, for sure, but would come much cheaper.]
6. Chris Kaman -- Would the Clippers new management consider trading the first-time all-star with Blake Griffin ready to make his debut? Kaman (two years, $23.5M remaining) has the tools to play in D'Antoni's system because he moves very well for a big man, has a soft touch with both hands and has the length to defend the rim. Isn't a bona-fide go-to guy, but you wouldn't trade for him to be that in this system, where he'd do more pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop stuff with what you hope is your main guy (i.e.: Joe Johnson).
7. Brendan Haywood -- He'll be 30 years old and likely looking to join an established team (perhaps even stay in Dallas). He's a solid vet and a big body. Not sure he plays as fast as what Mike D'Antoni is going to want, but, again with the right talent at PF he can be the bodyguard you need to protect your stars and do the dirty work. Plus, he's a native New Yorker with a pretty candid blog that would be quite popular here in the media capital.
8. Samuel Dalembert -- A terrific shot blocker (career 1.9 average) who can run the floor, but absolute head case in many other aspects, including discipline. One year left on his deal at $12.2M so it's not a major risk. You'd need serious leadership in the locker room to hold him accountable. Perhaps being in a contract year will make him more responsible.
9. Emeka Okafor -- His contract (4 years, $52M left) could be had from the cost-conscious Hornets if the Knicks can offer payroll relief, but the Knicks should also want to get more out of New Orleans than just Okafor, who is a good shot-blocker and rebounder but positionally bad as a defender and a very limited offensive player. They can't take on that kind of a contract on it's own. That's not why they got under the cap.
10. Tyson Chandler -- Has a $12.7M player option for next season which he's certain to pick up. Could the Knicks swap him for his pal, Eddy Curry? The main thing would be to get Chandler healthy and running hard like he did with Chris Paul in New Orleans. Him next to a Bosh or Stoudemire would make for a long front line.
11. Erick Dampier -- If Haywood stays in Dallas, they might not need to keep Dampier, who has one year left at $13M. On 35 year old knees, he's breaking down for sure, but he does provide toughness and size and, playing next to Dirk Nowitzki, he knows how to play that role if the Knicks also get a Stoudemire or Bosh.
12. Kurt Thomas -- Had success playing for D'Antoni in Phoenix and is a throwback to the days of tough Knick defense. He's always willing to battle and you can't have enough of those type of people in your locker room. Age (37) obviously an issue so to rely on him as a starter would be a mistake. But if you go small, young and athletic with your starting five, it wouldn't hurt to bring in Dirty Kurtie off the bench.
13. Brad Miller -- About five or six years ago, this would be a good move. Miller was a very good mid-range shooter, a smart passer and rugged defender in the paint who wasn't afraid to mix it up. But at 34 years old lumbering around the court, he looks like a player ready to retire. As a low-cost backup? Perhaps. As a starter? Pass.
14. Shaquille O'Neal -- He can hardly stay on the court against the athletic Joakim Noah and while his size and strength are great to have around just as a bouncer, it doesn't make a great deal of sense for the Knicks to go this route unless they have serious talent in other positions and just want to overload on star power. But he's more or less a guy who gets in the way and you have to play around him.
15. Jermaine O'Neal -- Not the direction the Knicks want to go in, either. J-O has put up decent numbers with the Heat but doesn't at all fit in the up-tempo, quick ball movement style D'Antoni wants to play and doesn't even look like he loves to play. He lived with being third-fiddle in Miami behind Wade and Michael Beasley and perhaps recognizing where he is in his career, he'd accept being a role player for a cheap price next to prime stars.