They had $13 million of salary cap space and their frontcourt All-Star to pair with the signing of point guard Baron Davis, but that vanished. Sure, they still have a good center in Chris Kaman, a promising young forward with Al Thornton and a good rookie guard prospect, Eric Gordon.
But Brand left a huge hole up front. Rumors swirled regarding a trade for Knicks power forward Zach Randolph, or a swing at young restricted free agent forwards Josh Smith and Emeka Okafor. Evidently, all those possibilities were nothing more than idle chatter.
Nowhere in the ruminations was Marcus Camby, the 12-year forward/center of the Denver Nuggets ... until Tuesday night.
Providing the Nuggets with luxury tax relief and a $10 million trade exception to make another move, the Clippers acquired the 6-foot-11 Camby for the meager sum of the Nuggets having the option to swap second round picks in 2010.
OK, we get it sort of from the Nuggets' end. They're willing to gamble on injury-prone Nene to be their center for now and the future, with Kenyon Martin presumably able to swing there on occasion from power forward. There is an explanation, if not quite logical, provided the Nuggets utilize that trade exception that lasts one full year.
But it all works for the Clippers at least initially. Camby, who this season became only the second player in NBA history to lead the league in blocks for the third year in a row, gives them exceptionally strong interior defense with him at power forward next to Kaman. Consider the 7-foot, 265-pound Kaman's 15.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks ... now add Camby's 13.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks. And don't figure on Camby crowding Kaman in the post he tends to wander around the key and follow shots to the rim, averaging 9.1 points a game.
This will open up the floor for Davis, Thornton, Gordon, Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley to run the perimeter.
To be sure, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy has had to put the Brand insult behind him and sounds legitimately excited with this move.
"I love this acquisition for the current make up of our team," Dunleavy said. "We are getting a consummate pro who is maybe the best team defender in the league and who has 60 playoff games under his belt."
That's not to say this more than makes up for the loss of Brand, because it doesn't. Presumably, Davis will compensate for the loss of points overall, but they can't replace his ability to score in the post or at least his face-up 20 points a game. Camby makes up for the rebounds, assuming he stays healthy.
After having been considered fragile most of his career, Camby has averaged 68.6 games over the past five seasons with the Nuggets, including a career-high 79 games and 34.9 minutes a game this past year. He's been transformed from a soft, 235-pound center into one of the most formidable stoppers in the game topped off by his defensive player of the year award in 2007.
No doubt the skimpy fee of a second round switch is based on the gamble that, at 34, Camby still has enough left to complete the final two years of his contract. But if they get 65-70 games, 8-10 points, 10-12 rebounds and 2.5-3.0 blocks, the Clippers will be thrilled.
Meanwhile back in the Rockies, where do the Nuggets turn?
They are plenty of directions, including a much-needed point guard such as Kirk Hinrich, Luke Ridnour or Kyle Lowry. Maybe they throw a stinger at the Bobcats and Hawks with a front-loaded offer sheet for Okafor or Smith, respectively. The same goes for the Sixers restricted free agent Andre Iguodala, who would give the Nuggets a strong perimeter defender with Scottie Pippen-like defensive qualities and an improving offensive game from the wing. Or they could always gamble on Nets 7-footer Nenad Krstic or grab a big body like the Knicks' Randolph.
We'll just have to see what Nuggets general manager Mark Warkentien, vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman and coach George Karl come up with now. Already a terrible defensive team, the loss of Camby's great weak-side blocks hurts them even more. Despite Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony collaborating as the top scoring duo in the NBA, they were swept by the Lakers in the first round this season and have lost eight playoff games in a row, including the last four games of the 4-1 first-round exit in 2007 to San Antonio.
In other words, the Clippers have at least plugged a gap, while the Nuggets appear to have created another. And it's early ... too early to arrive at any conclusions. The Nuggets can't be finished and the Clippers probably aren't either.
But the Clippers do figure to have a number of block parties starring Camby and Kaman, so even if they don't make the playoffs again, at least they'll be fun.