- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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One week later, Brand's old team has rebounded nicely.
The Clippers on Tuesday night swung a trade to import Denver Nuggets center Marcus Camby as their Brand replacement for the minuscule cost of giving Denver the option to swap second-round picks in 2010, capitalizing on the Nuggets' need to shed salary to create their own financial flexibility.
"We felt like we needed to shake things up and do something a little bit radical to be able to create flexibility going forward," Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman said in a conference call.
Using the salary-cap space earmarked for re-signing Brand before his free-agent departure to the Philadelphia 76ers, L.A. was able to absorb Camby's contract ($10 million for each of the next two seasons) without surrendering anything of consequence, although Denver did create a trade exception worth $10.1 million that expires one year from Tuesday.
The Clippers were initially expected to respond to the unraveling of their dream tag team -- Brand and Baron Davis -- by extending a lucrative offer sheet to one of four restricted free agents: Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, Charlotte Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor, Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng or Philadelphia 76ers forward Andre Iguodala. But trading for Camby so quickly enables L.A. to avoid the risky game of restricted free agency, which would afford each of those teams seven days to match any Clippers offer, potentially tying up the Clippers' resources for a week with no guarantee of landing their target.
Camby is not nearly the offensive force Brand is -- and will be 35 in March -- but he's coming off a career season in which he averaged 9.1 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.61 blocks for the Nuggets, who won 50 games to claim the final playoff spot in the West in what was regarded as the most competitive conference race in league history.
"I think this is a very good addition for us, especially since we're getting a player who can really help us without having to give up a player in return," general manager Elgin Baylor said. "With him playing alongside [Chris] Kaman, I think we will have a pair of excellent interior defenders and that will make us a formidable team."
The Clippers, sources said, also preserved an estimated $3 million in cap space to perhaps add another rotation player to their new core, which features the homegrown Davis as their new cornerstone, second-year swingman Al Thornton, recent draftee Eric Gordon and Kaman as Camby's new frontcourt sidekick.
"I love this acquisition for the current makeup of our team," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We are getting a consummate pro who is maybe the best team defender in the league and has 60 playoff games under his belt."
Exiling Camby for essentially no return was certainly not the Nuggets' preference, but finances forced their hand. The Allen Iverson-Carmelo Anthony-Camby trio could not get out of the first round in two tries and couldn't even win a game in a humbling first-round playoff exit to the Los Angeles Lakers last season, leaving Denver convinced that it had to start drastically cutting payroll to allow for further reshaping of its roster. The Nuggets, for starters, will now have more cushion to match potential offers to restricted free agent J.R. Smith if they choose.
Chapman didn't rule out the possibility of another move being made before the start of the season.
"It's a fluid situation," he said. "Are we going to continue to look for ways to improve the team? Absolutely. We felt like the right trade came along at the right time. We felt like we needed to strike while the iron was hot. We're not going to make a bad deal We're not satisfied with winning 50 games or getting to the playoffs. Our goal is to win a championship. We felt like we needed to shake things up and be able to have flexibility going forward to put a championship team on the court."
The Nuggets had the league's fourth-highest payroll last season and are required to pay $13,572,079 in luxury taxes by July 23. Denver's preference naturally would have been trading away Brazilian forward Nene or fellow forward Kenyon Martin, but Martin is due to earn roughly $46.5 million over the next three seasons and is the only player in the NBA to undergo microfracture surgery on both knees. Nene makes slightly less than Camby over the next two seasons but was limited to 16 games last season and underwent surgery to treat testicular cancer.
So Camby, the NBA's defensive player of the year in 2006-07, was always Denver's most likely candidate to be exiled for financial reasons in spite of his own injury history.
"Marcus has been an exceptional representative of the Nuggets both on the court and in the Denver community during his time here and we are greatly appreciative of all he has done," Mark Warkentien, the Nuggets' vice president of basketball operations, said in a statement.
Fast-spreading word of Camby's imminent departure left Nuggets coach George Karl struggling to mask his disappointment as he watched the NBA Summer League on the campus of UNLV.
"I'm not going to talk philosophically about what's going on and why we did it," Karl said. "I think all of us, Marcus and all the coaches, we're going to have to think about it a little bit. It was a situation where I know that Marcus was a big part of our success. Any time you lose a player like Marcus, you're going to have a tough time filling that void."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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