Marcus Camby

The Ultimate Raptors Rankings are the RaptorBlog editors’ attempt to rank the top 30 Toronto Raptors of all time. These rankings are obviously somewhat arbitrary and endlessly debatable, but they’re based on each player’s contribution, performance and longevity as a Raptor, and on how beloved they are by Raptors fans. We’ll count down a new Raptor every Wednesday on this blog.

Marcus Camby’s Raptors résumé:

  • Fourth in franchise history, blocks (360)
  • First in franchise history, blocks per game, minimum 100 games (2.9)
  • Named to 1996-97 All-Rookie First Team

Like many players drafted by the Raptors over the years, Marcus Camby stands out more for who he could have been rather than who we was. The Raptors won the 1996 draft lottery, which ordinarily means that team gets the first pick in the subsequent draft. However, the Raptors and Grizzlies had an agreement with the league that disallowed them from drafting first overall, so that pick and Allen Iverson went to Philadelphia.

With the second overall pick in that draft, Camby was the obvious choice. He won that year’s John R. Wooden Award, the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year Award and the AP Player of the Year Award after averaging 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game. He led Massachussets to the Final Four before they succumbed to Kentucky, the eventual champion. In his most noteworthy performance of his final college season, he scored 17 points while holding Tim Duncan to just nine points when they were both juniors. It appeared that the skinny, 6-foot-11, 22-year-old had almost unlimited potential. He was long, athletic, aggressive on both ends of the floor, and he could dribble as well as most players six inches shorter than him. If Camby was the Raptors’ “consolation prize” for getting screwed out of being able to draft Iverson, it looked like a pretty damn good one.

In spite of missing 19 games in his rookie season (foreshadowing the injury problems that would plague him throughout his career), Camby looked like a future All-Star in his rookie season with the Raptors, averaging 14.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. The Raptors’ record improved by nine wins over their previous, inaugural season and Camby’s interior defense deserved much of the credit — the team’s Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) improved from 28th in the league in 1995-96 to a respectable 17th overall in the 1996-97 season.

In the best performance of Camby’s rookie season, he finished with 36 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, three assists and two steals in a 117-105 victory over Iverson and the Sixers. As with his dominance of Duncan in college, he demonstrated a flair for elevating his game when properly motivated.

The Raptors’ future looked bright in ’97 with the young tandem of Camby and Damon Stoudamire and the addition of a dynamic teenager named Tracy McGrady selected in the 1997 draft. But Camby’s injury problems continued in the 1997-98 season as he missed another 19 games while his scoring dropped to 12.1 points per game. On the bright side, he led the league with 3.7 blocks per game even though he only averaged 31.8 minutes — it would be the first of four times he would lead the NBA in that stat.

More significant than Camby’s stats was the fact that the Raptors plummeted to a 16-66 record — second-worst in the NBA. There was talk that Camby’s dedication to practice, conditioning and healthy eating was less than stellar. Notably, the Raptors had someone follow Camby around for a day and they discovered that he ate Taco Bell for every single meal. Now, I’m sure we can agree that there are certain times when Taco Bell hits the spot (insert bong sound here) but it’s generally inadvisable for a pro athlete to consume that multiple times a day.

Deciding that they needed to go in a different direction and bring some veteran leadership to this wayward squad, the Raptors traded Camby to the Knicks in the 1998 off-season for Charles Oakley, Sean Marks and $8 million in cash. Camby wasn’t finished having an impact on the Raptors, however. While preparing for a first-round playoff series between the Knicks and Raptors in April 2000, Camby was interviewed by a reporter from the New York Daily News who asked him about his time with the Raptors and playing for then-coach Butch Carter. Here was Camby’s incendiary reply:

“(Carter) is a liar. I remember just before I got traded (from the Raptors to the Knicks), me and John Wallace were working out with the team in Boca Raton and we had a meeting and (Carter) said, ‘Yeah, you guys are going to be the foundation, we are going to keep you guys here.’ … No one likes him and no one wants to play for him. “

Carter was understandably upset by this statement, but his response was a little overboard — he filed a $5 million lawsuit against Camby for defamation of character on the day before Game One of the series. In some circles, we refer to this kind of behavior as “batshit crazy”. Carter dropped the lawsuit before Game Two, but the damage was done. The Knicks swept the Raptors in three straight games, Carter was fired in June, and he never coached in the NBA again.

Unless he surprises us and retires before the start of the next season (whenever that is), Camby will be 37 years old when he enters his 16th NBA season. While his ongoing injury problems have only allowed him to average 59 games per season, he is still 14th all-time in career blocks, 53rd in career rebounds, and he’s earned roughly $107 million on the court. He has yet to win an NBA championship, but he was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the 2006-07 season. In spite of his sometimes questionable work ethic and faulty body, Camby has had a mighty fine NBA career. If things hadn’t soured between him and the Raptors after his sophomore season, it’s a safe bet he would have ended up much higher on this list.