It was 11 years ago this month that the Knicks brought Jamal Crawford to New York in a sign-and-trade as part of a six-player deal with the Chicago Bulls. That move to bring the up-and-coming scorer in also happens to be the beginning of the worst extended stretch in Knicks’ franchise history since missing the playoffs and failing to win 32 games for seven consecutive seasons to start the 1960s. Coincidence or not, Crawford’s tenure with the Knicks was the low moment of the last 50 years for basketball in New York.
Now with the team coming off the most miserable season in franchise history — 17 wins is the worst mark of all time — the Knicks have once again turned their eyes to Crawford as a trade target, per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. Even if they’re able to land the coveted former Knick, there isn’t too much optimism that the team is going to turn it around quickly to contend for anything more than a bottom seed in the East in the near future.
Crawford played in Madison Square Garden from 2004 through 2008 before being traded for cap space during that 2008-09 season. From the time he was acquired until he was traded to Golden State on November 22, 2008, the Knicks were an abysmal 118-216 during. He averaged 17.6 points on 40.7 percent shooting during his years there, but along with Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and David Lee, those teams were committed to playing no defense whatsoever.
Crawford’s ineptitude on that side of the ball didn’t even stand out on that roster, but it would be the last team he played for where he wasn’t an obvious weak link defensively. Now at 35 years old and in an NBA with motion offenses putting pressure on every defender on the floor, Crawford is even more of a liability on that end.
Of course, the Knicks wouldn’t get Crawford to be a defensive stopper. With Arron Afflalo newly signed and a lock to start at the 2, the Knicks are reportedly targeting Crawford to fill a similar role in New York as he has along his last few NBA stops. As of this moment, Langston Galloway, Cleanthony Early and Sasha Vujacic are the leading candidates to be Derek Fisher‘s first wing off the bench, which isn’t ideal. Crawford would provide Carmelo Anthony another scoring presence, and also be a valuable second ball handler and lead scorer on bench-heavy units.
However, the Knicks are limited in avenues to acquire Crawford (Jose Calderon would have to be dealt in any scenario), leaving Isola to opine that they’d likely need to include a third team in the transaction unless the Clippers were willing to take on Calderon’s contract, which has two years and over $15 million left on it. Los Angeles probably wouldn’t be willing to do that without some sort of sweetener, and that might not be worth it for New York.
For that reason, the rumors that Crawford could be making a return to the Knicks should be met with some skepticism. Isola writes that both the Cavaliers and the Heat are interested in acquiring his services, and both would have more to offer than the Knicks (that’s without counting the inclusion of future first-round picks, which a rebuilding Knicks team shouldn’t be considering.)
Still, the idea that Phil Jackson is supposedly pursuing this is enough to raise eyebrows. It isn’t hard to imagine Crawford succeeding in the Triangle offense. As much as he resembles J.R. Smith, who was just traded away this past season, Crawford has been a more willing passer and has been easier to coach during his time in the NBA. Both guys may hijack the offense at times, but Crawford is much less of a risk to completely ignore the Triangle to throw off-balance jumpers towards the rim.
But again, at the moment it looks unlikely that Crawford returns to New York. The Clippers’ bench might be improved with Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, but Crawford is still the best scoring option off the bench and they could get a decent return even they’re just dumping his salary. For a contender like the Heat or the Cavaliers, it makes sense to add a guy who could come off the bench and just fill it up, so they may be more willing to give up an asset.
Crawford could help the Knicks, but the asking price probably won’t be worth one year of his services to a team that doesn’t project to improve tremendously after a 17-win season, with or without the additional scoring. So Knicks fans will likely just have to hold onto the memories Crawford gave them when he wore the orange and blue in the 2000s, although they may just rather forget that time period altogether.