Despite boasting perhaps the deepest and most talented roster the franchise has ever seen, trading Jamal Crawford would be a mistake for the title-hopeful Los Angeles Clippers.
Although the Clippers now have seven eligible members to claim minutes in the backcourt between Chris Paul, Austin Rivers, Pablo Prigioni, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, C.J. Wilcox and Crawford, the backcourt depth is more deceiving than it seems.
While the Clippers have to be hopeful Stephenson can blossom in Los Angeles and look like the talent he was with the Indiana Pacers, there was nothing to suggest as much after his one-and-done season with the Charlotte Hornets. Wilcox, a surprising first-round pick in 2014, has shown nothing at the professional level. Rivers still has a ton to prove after his Dad saved his NBA career when it was on life support, and Prigioni, while a valued reserve, isn’t capable of contributing more than 15-20 minutes at this stage. That leaves Crawford as the sole dependable, reliable piece behind the team’s starting backcourt combination.
It’s not like this is a club that has to move Crawford — especially not right now. Entering the final season of his contract, Crawford is going to have value from now through the 2016 trade deadline. The Clippers have no incentive to settle on a low-ball offer or make a move just to make a move, and diluting a position of strength just to supplement a weaker area of the roster doesn’t equal a net strength.
This week, we learned (via Frank Isola of the New York Daily News) the New York Knicks — in addition to the (previously reported) Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers — have interest in acquiring Crawford.
The problem with the Knicks’ interest in Crawford is that New York is limited in what it can offer. As of this week, just Jose Calderon, Cleanthony Early, Langston Galloway and Carmelo Anthony are eligible to be moved, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders. It doesn’t make sense — for either side — to construct a deal around any of those players with the exception of Calderon, but that would give the Clippers another point guard, and the veteran is signed through 2016-17.
Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com (via ProBasketballTalk) reported that Crawford would enjoy playing for the Cavaliers, and while LeBron and Co. would love to have a volume scorer off the bench, the Cavs don’t have anything to offer the Clippers to make it worth Los Angeles’ while. And while LeBron’s former team in Miami would love to add Crawford behind Dwyane Wade as insurance in front of rookie Justise Winslow, it’s hard to envision any reason why the Clippers would want Mario Chalmers in return.
Despite Crawford looking like the odd man out in Los Angeles, he brings a skill set that should be embraced for a team that needs him and it, as Grant Hughes wrote for Bleacher Report:
Among players who attempted at least 190 spot-up shots last season, Crawford ranked fifth in the NBA with 1.22 points per play—ahead of noted marksmen like Danny Green and Wesley Matthews and just a hair behind teammate J.J. Redick. Side note: Holy smokes, Klay Thompson!
Outside of Pierce and the low-volume shooting of Prigioni, the Clips didn’t add much shooting this past summer. And the loss of Matt Barnes, who ranked second on the team with 376 three-point attempts in 2014-15 (and connected at a 36.2 percent clip), means there’s a shooting void that needs to be filled.
What if Redick is forced to again miss substantial time this season? What if the Stephenson experiment doesn’t pan out? If Paul, the rock of this team, sustains an injury of any kind, the Clippers would be in trouble. Crawford, capable of filling in at either guard spot in a pinch, would help to fill the void in all of those scenarios. Crawford might look like a luxury, but he’s a very real necessity for a Clippers team that needs him to reach — and then eclipse — expectations.
This is a volatile mix both on paper and in the locker room. After a summer where there’s been an immense amount of action, drama and turnover, mad scientist Doc Rivers can’t afford a chemical imbalance that would throw off the entire equation.
Keeping Crawford is the only move that makes sense.