To virtually nobody's surprise (except apparently his own), Crawford received no deal better than the two-year contract the Portland Trail Blazers offered last offseason. The $5 million midlevel exception represented a 54 percent pay cut from his previous season's salary, and almost immediately there were indications that Crawford and the Blazers were not quite an ideal fit.
Portland won seven of its first nine games, but Crawford shot better than 40 percent in only one of those games. His shooting, which is really his only viable skill, was erratic at best over the course of the season. His occasional 20-point outbursts were interspersed among 6-for-15 clangfests, and it took him until February to get his field goal percentage above 40 percent. For the season he shot only .384 and shot a career-worst .308 on 3-pointers. His league-high 92.7 percent mark from the free throw line was largely wasted, since he only took 3.4 free throws per game.
Not that any of this should dissuade the Celtics, who are reportedly interested in acquiring Crawford, from pursuing him under the right circumstances.
Surroundings are crucial for any NBA player, but especially so for sixth men. Crawford was the ideal frantic bench weapon for the predictable Hawks, just as reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden's playmaking is the perfect offset to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's score-first mentalities.
Crawford never meshed with Portland point guard Raymond Felton (did anybody?), and following their 7-2 start the Blazers went just 11-14 the rest of the way before the All-Star break.
The Celtics present an entirely different situation for Crawford. Doc Rivers clearly liked the idea of bringing an aggressive shooter off the bench, which contributed to him shifting Ray Allen out of the starting lineup in favor of Avery Bradley. Whereas Allen did not fully embrace the reserve role, Crawford has made a career of carrying the scoring responsibilities for the second unit. In Boston, Crawford could get back to being the dangerous scorer he was with the Bulls, Knicks, Warriors and Hawks.
Crawford's move to Boston would not be without complications. The Blazers have until Friday to trade Crawford, or else he must either opt in for the second year of his deal with the Blazers or become an unrestricted free agent. Any player-for-player trade is problematic for the Celtics, who currently have only four players signed for next season and are unlikely to view Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo or Bradley as suitable trade chips for Crawford. (JaJuan Johnson could be a different story.)
Why wouldn't Crawford leap at the chance to become an unrestricted free agent and sign wherever he pleased? In the short term, he is unlikely to attract more than the roughly $5 million he receives from the Blazers via the mid-level exception. In the long run, opting out would also take away Crawford's "early Bird" rights next summer, meaning he and his new team would lose the salary cap advantages they would be afforded if he were traded on his existing deal.
The most realistic scenario for bringing Crawford to Boston would be the following: On draft night, the Celtics offer one or both of their draft picks as part of a deal for Crawford, who immediately signs paperwork to opt in for the 2012-13 season for about $5 million. This would presumably render Allen redundant for the Celtics, but could signal to Kevin Garnett that the team is serious about one more run at a championship. Crawford retains his Bird rights, which would allow the Celtics to exceed the cap to re-sign Crawford or execute a sign-and-trade next offseason.
As with most NBA moves, getting Crawford would not be simple for the Celtics. If he reverts to the instant-offense player he was only two years ago, Crawford could end up being a relative steal.
Thumbnail via Facebook/Jamal Crawford