Jordan Crawford: Chemistry, familiarity key as Pelicans incorporate new players

by Jim Eichenhofer

Much like when he’s on the court and has a wide-open look at the basket, New Orleans guard Jordan Crawford didn’t hesitate. After receiving a message from Anthony Davis regarding a multi-day meeting of Pelicans players last month in Lexington, Ky., Crawford immediately cleared his schedule, making sure he’d be there.

“He kind of just said it straightforward,” Crawford related of the four-time All-Star’s plan to host a voluntary team gathering on the University of Kentucky campus. “But it came across like you could tell that we needed to be there, like it was something he wanted to get done. It was good that he did that, because even though he’s younger than a lot of players here, he’s the leader. He’s got to take on that role.”

Crawford, 28, described the Lexington meeting of about a dozen Pelicans as an initial step toward building off-court chemistry and cohesiveness, for a 2017-18 roster that will include more than a handful of new players. A former teammate of Rajon Rondo with the Boston Celtics for one season, it’s something Crawford says the Pelicans’ new starting point guard emphasizes as key to team success.

“He likes to do a lot of team-bonding stuff, whether it’s playing cards or things like that,” Crawford said of Rondo. “Because he realizes that we have to all know each other for this to work. That’s what he’s very good at.

“He got it from Kevin Garnett (in Boston). KG is big on that. It might seem like a little thing, and people might not think it can help a team that much, but it does make a difference, especially through the dog days of a season.”

Having suited up for five NBA teams – with his longest stretch with one franchise being the 133 games he played for Washington – Crawford has often been in situations where he’s had to rapidly adjust to surroundings and teammates. He supports Rondo’s approach of trying to do anything possible to increase familiarity between players; in addition to Rondo, New Orleans officially signed Ian Clark and Darius Miller in free agency, along with drafting Frank Jackson. The Pelicans also added two-way contract signees Jalen Jones and Charles Cooke. As of Tuesday morning, they still officially have open roster spots.

“One of the things (Rondo) brings to a team is he makes players understand that we are in this together,” Crawford explained. “You might think of it as a defiant attitude or something like that, but it’s really (having the perspective) that the coaches are part of this team, but they’re not going to be on the court with us.”

The Pelicans are aware of the unique importance of 2017-18 for several key players, including three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, who’s trying to reach the playoffs for the first time. Davis and Jrue Holiday will attempt to appear in the postseason for only their second time in New Orleans. An annual springtime star early in his career with Boston, even Rondo has only played in four playoff games over the past five years.

Crawford views the Lexington workouts – which included intrasquad scrimmages and some away-from-basketball bonding – as important in being able to envision what the ’17-18 Pelicans will look like this fall.

“It put every player into the role they are going to have this season,” Crawford said. “It put AD in the role of leadership, by getting all of us to come out there (to Kentucky). As good as he is, he’s going to have to be demanding of players, but it makes it easier when you have someone like him who is willing to sacrifice (for the team). It got Rondo connected with Jrue and AD and DeMarcus. So it was good to be able to picture it and say, ‘OK, this is going to be our team.’ ”