Two years ago, with the curtain falling on the Rick Adelman Era here in Houston, the Rockets were closing out a 2010-11 NBA season where Chuck Hayes -- all six-foot-six (listed) of him -- had started 63 games for them at the center position.
Now, we all love Chuck Hayes. We all love Chuck Hayes so much that his first name should be "We All Love" because I feel like we preface every evaluation that includes Hayes's shortcomings with that caveat. We love him because of his basketball IQ, because of his toughness, because of his grit, because of his ultra-fucked up free throw shooting motion.
It's established. We all love Chuck Hayes.
But he's Chuck Hayes, and if he's your starting center, you can make vacation plans for late April. So desperate was the Chuck Hayes Era at center that Samuel Dalembert felt like Bill Russell when he signed here the following season.
Now, here we sit in July 2013, and in about a year's time, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has assembled an embarrassment of riches at the center position, with Dwight Howard (the best in the game) and Omer Asik (a top 10-12 center) as his backup.
And on Sunday, Morey tossed a few more gold coins on the "big man" treasure pile with the signing of veteran center, former Rocket and Pearland resident Marcus Camby as a seven-foot-tall insurance policy.
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported the signing on Sunday afternoon:
Camby chose to sign with the Rockets as a free agent, a person with knowledge of the decision said, to play for team far more prepared to compete than the team he left as a free agent last summer. A longtime resident of Pearland, Camby also considered the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.
Camby will sign a veteran's minimum, worth $1.4 million next season.
Two seasons ago, Camby came to the Rockets near the trade deadline when they struck out on their first attempt at making Howard a Rocket, back when Dwight was with the Orlando Magic. Camby quickly teamed with Dalembert to give the team a decent rotation at center and a formidable inside presence defensively, to the extent that you could argue that Camby was the team's most important player at times during his brief stretch as a Rocket (which, let's be honest, spoke as much to the roster doldrums of that group as it did to Camby's assets).
During the 2012 offseason, the Rockets moved Camby to the New York Knicks, a team he had maybe his best years with in the late '90s, in a sign-and-trade, and while Morey's complete rebuild of the Rockets' center position from cardboard shanty to opulent mansion in just two seasons is the greatest feat we will discuss in this post, the details of the Camby trade a year or so ago make that part of this post the funniest. Here's what I mean, stay with me on this:
Camby was signed to a three-year, $13 million deal and then traded to the Knicks for Toney Douglas, Josh Harrellson, Jerome Jordan and two second-round picks (one in 2014, one in 2015). In his one season back in New York, he was hurt for most of the year and averaged a paltry 1.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 10.4 minutes per game. He played in just 24 games.
During this offseason, one year into Camby's three-year deal, the Knicks decided to throw the center into a trade with the Raptors (along with Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson and a couple more draft picks) for former number one overall pick Andrea Bargnani. Toronto promptly bought out the final two years of Camby's contract, making him a free agent.
And while Douglas, Jordan and Harrellson are all gone now from Houston (either cut loose outright or traded), the Rockets still have those two second-round picks from the Knicks, and we know how Morey has been able to parlay second-round picks into assets (see: Parsons, Chandler; see: Budinger, Chase, who was eventually parlayed into Jones, Terrence).
So now the punch line: Functionally, the Rockets relinquished Camby for a year (a year the Knicks wound up paying more than $4 million for, and that the Raptors paid several million dollars for as well), a year in which he played just 24 games, and they got two second-round picks back in return.
That, my friends, is having your cake, eating it too and then rubbing the leftover frosting all over James Dolan's face.
Will Camby play a significant role on this year's Rockets team? On the court, barring a trade of Asik, probably not. But he is a fantastic insurance policy and a veteran presence in a young locker room, and a further sign that the perception of this team has flipped from "pretender" to "contender."
At the veteran's minimum, this is a great signing. With two future second-round picks already that were acquired specifically for Camby, this is an hilarious signing.
Daryl Morey is just showing off now.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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