Jamal Crawford is by far the most decorated free agent in today’s market and somehow teams have yet to put pen to paper with the three-time Sixth Man of the Year and strike out a deal.
According to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the defending champion Golden State Warriors have expressed interest in Crawford with offers throughout the summer, but none have been seductive enough for the Seattle-area native.
The one-on-one assassin turned down a one-year, $4.5 million option with the Minnesota Timberwolves to set himself up for free agency, but the move has wildly backfired, as the shooting guard has yet to sign with a team.
So why is a talented and experienced 38-year-old still on the open market?
The answer isn’t simple by any means, but it’s worthy to note that 26 other teams have kept from darting their best shot at Crawford for a few reasons.
The aging of a good veteran guard
Crawford turned 38 back in March and is now one of the very few players that reach their late 30s and is still around the NBA. His numbers and his role has consistently dipped since he last won the Sixth Man award in 2015-16.
Yet the problem hinges on his role not slimming enough to teams’ liking, as the likes of Vince Carter and Jason Terry have been largely used as mentors that get very limited minutes for this latter stage of their careers.
Crawford might be nearing his 40s, but he surely still possesses an innate ability to be a spark plug off the bench, something he can only truly unleash by playing 25 minutes or more for a team.
His last year in Minnesota proved just that, as the former 2000 lottery pick saw only 20.7 minutes per game under a starter-heavy rotation from coach Tom Thibodeau, getting the third-least amount of shot attempts per game of his career.
J-Crossover’s problem isn’t that he is aging, it’s that he’s not aging enough for teams to warrant taking a flier on him, knowing that he’ll require a decent amount of minutes to do his damage.
The NBA is going younger
The two-way contract provision surely saw an effect last season, as teams proved to become inclined at stashing talent with those two extra roster spots, giving them an injury reserve of sorts to use throughout the season.
That proved true not only in the summer of 2017, but also during the season and after the trade deadline, as most teams seemed trigger-shy on some of the players placed on waivers, instead opting to rely on their farm system waiting in the D League.
Crawford has fallen victim to that as well and to put it bluntly, it is much cheaper to spend much less than a million dollars for a bench player than it is for a respected veteran on a one-year deal for the minimum, which is maxed out at $2.4 million after 10 years of service.
Even a player like Quinn Cook, who boasts an impressive resume after leading the D League in scoring in 2016-17, only made $14,832 of a base salary as a D League player, receiving NBA wages for his 45 days with the Warriors before inking a two-year, $1.5 million contract with the team.
Versatility is not his friend
Crawford is one of the best in the business when it comes to putting the ball in the basket, but ever since he became a sixth man extraordinaire, his talents have been reduced to being the proverbial haymaker for his team.
Ever since his minutes sunk under 30 per game, Crawford has yet to generate three or more assists per game in a season, despite his excellent ability to penetrate through the defense. Crawford put up 14 points and 3.2 assists per game for Portland in 2011-12 and once again for the L.A. Clippers in 2013-14 while putting up 18.6 points per game — which earned him his second Sixth Man award after picking up 24 starts for the injured Chris Paul.
J-Craw put up a mere 10.3 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for the Timberwolves last season, while shooting only 41.5 percent from the floor and 33.1 percent from deep — numbers that just don’t help his case for a contract.
The NBA is morphing into a more position-less game every year and teams have begun to value well-rounded guys over specialists, making Crawford a rather expensive gamble if he’s not actively putting the ball through the hoop.
A decline in efficiency
Crawford’s game is aesthetically-pleasing to those watching at home or sitting in the stands, but his accuracy could prove to be a headache for most NBA head coaches and analysts of the game.
The lanky 6-foot-5 guard is known for being the man to have completed the most four-point plays in NBA history with 47, nearly doubling former teammate J.J. Redick’s 25. But those prayers come with their share of bad shots.
Crawford is a bad shot maker, and one of the best at that — but to be one, he must also be a bad shot taker, something that can irk the new wave of coaches, looking for more efficient ways to score.
His true shooting percentage has taken a slow, but steady dip throughout the last few years, going from 55.8 percent in 2012-13 to only 51.9 percent in 2017-18, as he goes inside less and less as he ages. In fact, Crawford registered a career-low in shot attempts from three feet and in, making up only 5.8 percent of his attempts, all while teeing up 42.3 percent of his shots from deep — scoring at a subpar 33.1 clip from long-range.
Time is everyone’s worst enemy
While Crawford is one of the most popular names in the free agent pool, he is also a victim of the hectic nature of NBA free agency — as teams have rushed like ravagers in a flea market to snag the best players available, often overpaying in hopes to outbid any other contender.
Most NBA rosters have 15 or more players already on board and little money to spend on a player that might or might not be happy with his role. Most importantly — most teams already have a sixth man in place, or at least the idea of one, which could push Crawford’s desired spot out of fit.
The Timberwolves, a team he recently left in hopes to explore the market, still have only 14 players, even after signing Luol Deng to a one-year deal, but will likely only carry that many into the regular season.
A re-marriage between Crawford and Minnesota is highly unlikely, given their recent breakup and a career-worst season that can perhaps spell the end of his road as an NBA pro.
What does the rest of the NBA think?
Most players that have come across Crawford have come away with a lasting impression of him as a professional and an all-around great person, but life isn’t always fair and the NBA is surely no exception.
The reigning Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons, expressed interest in playing with Crawford, but the likelihood of that happening is rather small, as will be explained below. Charlotte Hornets floor general Kemba Walker had a similar reaction, astonished that Crawford had yet to link up with an NBA team.
Crawford deserves to be an NBA player, especially considering that he’s not carrying a burdensome contract like Joakim Noah or Chandler Parsons, who have yet to prove they can keep healthy for a full season. In fact, Crawford has become an iron man of sorts, playing 79, 82, and 80 games in his last three seasons, despite being 38 years old.
The shifty bucket-getter is often complimented on his playing shape and even described as ageless, looking just like he did 18 years ago when he started his career with the Chicago Bulls.
In short, there should be more reasons why Crawford should have signed with an NBA team than why NBA teams have passed on him, but the circumstances are what they are, and he has to deal with the present, not the past.
What to expect for Crawford moving forward: The scenarios
The shake-and-bake artist has three potential options in the Warriors, Lakers, and Sixers. Let’s revisit them in order of value.
Golden State Warriors:
While his minutes will fluctuate in the Bay Area, a reunion with Golden State could be perhaps the best thing for his NBA career. The Warriors are by far his best shot to walk away from the NBA with a championship ring, and while he won’t pry the sixth man role away from the multi-faceted Andre Iguodala, he could play a Nick Young type of role as a shooter off the bench, also possessing the ability to create and run the offense if need be.
The impending signing of Patrick McCaw makes this a hard bet to make, but if talks fall out, the Warriors ownership won’t mind spending the extra money to bring a talented scorer into the fold.
Los Angeles Lakers:
The Lakers are in dire need of outside shooting, and if Crawford can find his stroke from distance once again, he can thrive in a LeBron James-led offense.
The Michigan product connected in 36 percent of his attempts from long-range in his last season with the Clippers (2016-17) and is only four seasons removed from hitting 36.1 percent and 37.6 percent from downtown in his first two years in L.A. If he can find a niche as a spot-up threat, he can re-ignite his value around gifted playmakers like Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, and James.
The Sixers have a whopping nine guards between their 15-man roster and their two-way prospects, making Crawford’s inclusion more of a shoehorn than the fit he was looking forward to finding.
Philly has the likes of Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick and giganto-point-guard Ben Simmons, who stands at a towering 6-foot-10 — all vying for playing time, while others like T.J. McConnell, and rookies Shake Milton, Landry Shamet, and Zhaire Smith will want minutes on the floor as well — making this a nightmare scenario for a bucket-filling shooting guard like Crawford.
Crawford averages 15 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists for his career — so fret not — as an NBA team will come calling for his services at one point or another without worry for any rust in his body.