Camby recalls tenure in T.O.

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Marcus Camby smiled when told that this is the Raptors' 10th-anniversary season.

"And how many head coaches have they been through in those 10 years?" Camby asked.

Well, six, Sam Mitchell being the latest transient.

"Wow," Camby said.

"That's crazy."

Camby, of course, was a member of the Raptors during some of their craziest days. The 6-foot-11 centre/forward now is a key member of the up-and-coming Denver Nuggets, but Camby has not forgotten where his NBA roots are.

"Yeah, there were good times and bad times in Toronto," said Camby, whose Nuggets played host to the Raptors in an NBA pre-season game last night at the Pepsi Center.

"That year we only won 16 games (1997-98), you never forget that. My most memorable time probably was my rookie year (1996-97), when we won 30 games, we had a good nucleus and it looked like we were building something."

Then the roof caved in, which has become a recurrent theme for the Raptors through the past decade.

"After the big trade happened (Damon Stoudamire to Portland) it kind of went downhill from there," said Camby, who was traded to the New York Knicks from the Raptors in the summer of '98.

"I remember them booing Damon in Toronto when he got drafted. Man, 10 years ago, huh?"

Even after Camby left Toronto, he had a front-row seat for some of the franchise's most infamous shenanigans.

Recall it was Camby who called then-Raptors coach Butch Carter a "liar" in a New York newspaper article, which prompted Carter to sue Camby for libel, all this in the heat of a playoff series in 2000.

The Knicks beat the Raptors that year, but the Raptors returned the favour the following spring. The Raptors have not won a playoff series since.

"When Tracy McGrady came into his own, and they got Vince Carter, the Raptors started to emerge a little bit," Camby said.

"But then they tailed off."

Camby certainly does not want the same arc of success, or lack of success, to apply to the Nuggets. Since Camby was traded to Denver from New York in 2002, he has seen the Nuggets rise from the depths of despair to the brink of unbridled optimism.

"Once Kiki (Vandeweghe, Nuggets general manager) brought me here, he told me about his vision, how he was trying to cut salaries and save up for free agency," recalled Camby, an East Coast kid who admitted it took him awhile to adjust to life in the West, professionally and personally.

"My first year here was dismal. We won 17 ball games. We were starting three or four rookies. But I saw the bigger picture. It all started with the drafting of Carmelo Anthony.

"Last year we did well, made the playoffs. But adding a guy like Kenyon Martin, and now having a frontcourt of myself, Kenyon and Nene, I think we have one of the best frontcourts in the league."

Throw in a solid backcourt that includes Andre Miller and Earl Boykins, and with Anthony being the obligatory high-maintenance star, the Nuggets are fairly loaded.

But what does being fairly loaded really get you in the ultra-competitive Western Conference?

"I feel we have a legitimate chance to win a championship," said an optimistic Camby, who played in the NBA final with the Knicks in '99.

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"Some people say we're one of the top couple of teams, but each night in the West, you're going against heavy hitters. The sky could be the limit for us, but it's going to be tough."

Not quite as tough as looking at Marcus Camby and realizing that this skinny, controversial, talented, frustrating and friendly kid, whom the Raptors drafted second overall in 1996, now is 30 years old.

Camby says he is like fine wine, getting better with age.

If only the same could be said for everything, and everyone.


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