COMING TO THE CLIPPERS A PERFECT FIT SAYS CRAWFORD
New Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, speaking from his hometown of Seattle, was nearly 1,200 miles from the team’s Playa Vista training center during Thursday’s introductory conference call. But it didn’t stop the former Sixth Man of the Year from making Los Angeles sound like an ideal second home.
Crawford, who averaged 13.9 points per game in his only year with the Trail Blazers in 2011-12, agreed in principle with the Clippers shortly after free agency opened on July 1. He officially inked a four-year deal Wednesday afternoon and traveled back home to continue working at his annual youth basketball clinic.
On Thursday, he called the situation with the Clippers “too perfect,” saying he felt wanted and was “ver comfortable” making the choice to come to Los Angeles.
“When I look at every situation, top to bottom from the organization and coaching staff to the players to where they were at as far as winning and where they were going, the Clippers stood out to me,”
Crawford said in his opening statement. “It was really a no-brainer when I got home and talked to my family about everything. Top to bottom, I didn’t think there would be a package like this anywhere else.”
In 12 years, the 6-foot-5 former No. 8 pick in the 2000 Draft, has scored more than 12,000 points (15.3 per game), appeared in 23 postseason games, and was named the 2009-10 Sixth Man of the Year with Atlanta. He spent four seasons with the Bulls, who acquired his draft rights from the Cavaliers, and another four and a half with the Knicks. Eleven games into the 2008-09 campaign he was dealt to Golden State, and has since played for the Warriors, Hawks, and Trail Blazers.
Crawford has succeeded as a starter and reserve in his 12-year career. Here’s what he thinks separates the two roles:
“The difference is I think starting you get a chance to pick your spots a little bit more. You know you’ll be out there a certain amount of time. Coming off the bench, you kind of have to speed up and come in with instant offense. Both of them are needed in this game. I think whenever you win championships or big games it’s never just the five guys, you need a solid eight or nine man rotation.”
Still, Crawford admits it’s been tough to get settled anywhere the last few years.
“I haven’t felt like I’ve really had a home since New York,” Crawford said. “I’ve moved around a little bit in Atlanta to Golden State to Portland and this [the Clippers’ organization] is the same feeling I had in New York. From talking to everybody, it’s really a family, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
He added that recruitment efforts from several Clippers players was also a factor in his decision.
“When you have guys like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chauncey Billups, all those key pieces calling saying, ‘we want you on our team, you’re a key piece to our team,’ that just makes you feel good. And to see how Mr. Roeser [Clippers President Andy Roeser] and Mr. Sacks [Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks] have handled everything it’s been just first class.”
As far as who did the most recruiting, Crawford said Paul and Billups contacted him first.
“Me and Chris actually talked for a while and just about how good we could be and he’d have another creator along with Chauncey and Eric [Bledsoe] to make things easier on himself.”
On the court, Crawford may help the Clippers most by making things easier. Head Coach Vinny Del Negro expects to use Crawford in a variety of roles, including utilizing his abilities as a combo-guard.
“He gives us a little more size in the backcourt. Obviously, he’s a big shot maker,” Del Negro said. “With Chris’ ability to open up the court, with Chauncey getting back hopefully and Jamal out there and Caron [Butler] and Lamar [Odom] able to open the court up a little, obviously that’s a tremendous advantage.
“The versatility Jamal brings is vital. When we traded Mo Williams and brought in Lamar, obviously we thought we needed someone who could be that combo guard for us and play both positions with some size. And you’d be hard pressed to find somebody that fits the bill better than Jamal.”
Del Negro added that having another ball-handler will get other members of the roster more “live catches.” Theoretically, Paul, Butler or Griffin would be forced to create on their own fewer times per game, meaning more offensive fluidity and higher percentage shots. While he’ll definitely see time at both guard spots, Crawford envisions even lining up at small forward in certain situations, which is a strategy Del Negro has used often throughout his coaching career.
“I’ve always been a guy who likes to play 3 guards at times to spread the court a little bit, especially when you have rim runners like Blake and DJ,” Del Negro said. “We have four guys who can make plays off the dribble.”
One question that remains unanswered at the moment is whether Crawford, who was a starter for most his first nine years in the league, will remain in his recent sixth-man role or start alongside Paul in the backcourt. Del Negro said it will sort itself out as the team continues to add pieces to the roster, but Crawford maintained he will serve whatever role most helps the team.
“I think when you’re truly about winning you do anything that’s asked,” Crawford said. “I have no problem doing anything on the perimeter. I think I’ll bring another creator, another shot-maker, and another guy who loves those fourth-quarter moments.”
Crawford said he’s had his eye on the Clippers for a while.
“I watched them come back when we had the lead and beat us three out of four times last year,” he said, referring to the Clippers’ three victories over the Blazers.
“In this business you meet a lot of people and teams that will tell l you what you want to hear,” he continued. “But these guys were genuine in everything they were saying. And I just felt comfortable. They were straight shooters about everything I asked whether good or bad and I just respected that. I respected what they’re doing as a franchise. When you think of the Clippers now, you don’t think of the Clippers 12 years ago when I first came into the league. It’s a totally different feel, a different vibe. I think the city of L.A. and across the west coast and the country are definitely taking notice.”