HANG TIME, Texas – It’s quite possible the Rockets won’t trade Omer Asik before the season opens, meaning that newly signed Marcus Camby could join a rather crowded stable of centers.
Dwight Howard, you might have heard, has moved to Houston. Asik is coming off a season in which he put up a double-double average, and Greg Smith has come out of the NBA D-League to show his mettle in the middle.
Therefore, it’s possible that, barring a significant injury to someone else, the 39-year-old Camby could wind up seeing less time on the court next season than when he played an average of just 10 minutes in 24 games a year ago with the Knicks.
Yet it is a solid and smart move nonetheless for a Rockets team that is clearly moving into another stage. Gone are the days when general manager Daryl Morey practically scoured junior high playgrounds for young talent to fill out a roster that he was constantly turning over.
The Rockets have jumped squarely into the Western Conference playoff dogfight and the importance now is in filling up the vacant spots with tested veterans who can play and lead.
For all the hullaballoo that surrounded his arrival, there is still a big question about Howard. Not concerning his physical skills or athletic talents, but his ability to be a leader on the court and a stabilizing force in the locker room. There will remain the close scrutiny of his boyish (clownish?) behavior until Howard shows that he can be a professional in every way on every night that he pulls on his jersey.
While there was much noise about the Rockets getting Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to sign on officially with the franchise to work as a tutor with the big men, the greatest Rocket ever will still live most of the year overseas in Amman, Jordan, and have his biggest effect on Howard during offseason workouts. Olajuwon will not be on the practice floor or in the locker room every day and each night of the long season to give lessons in how a franchise player comports himself.
That’s where Camby fits in: As a veteran entering his 18th season, as a well-regarded teammate who can be there in a pinch in certain games situations, but more important to be there on a daily basis to lead by example.
That role was played for two-plus seasons in Houston by the venerable Dikembe Mutombo at the end of this career. He stepped into the brink on plenty of occasions for the often-injured Yao Ming, but his greatest contribution was simply with his presence, which commanded respect.
That’s not to suggest that Howard will follow Camby up and down the court like a young pup. But even if he rarely plays, it never hurts to have an old dog around who can teach a few tricks — and lead by example.