Jamal Crawford joined the Clippers in the summer of 2012 and was given a four-year partially guaranteed deal worth around 25 million. This coming season will be his fourteenth (?!) in the league. Before he landed in LA, not a lot of us knew all that much about him. We knew he'd been sixth man of the year in Atlanta a couple of years before and knew he could put the ball in the hoop. We knew he'd played for a bunch of other teams as well, with uneven results. He'd spent time on the Knicks, the Bulls, but his last stop with the Portland Trail Blazers had been massively disappointing for both the team and for Crawford. He'd arrived on a franchise still reeling from the loss of Brandon Roy and they gave Crawford the starting point guard job... which was apparently a disastrous misfit. Still, he came to LA with good lifetime stats of around 15 points in 30 minutes per game and a three-point average of .350. For the Clips last year he did even better, averaging 16.5 in 29 minutes and had a three point percentage of .376. He was exactly what the Clips needed. He fit in wonderfully as a sixth man. When set plays broke down, with the clock winding down, the ball often wound up in Crawford's hands and he shook, wiggled, broke free, took off for the basket or launched loose-limbed, unlikely shots, and often they went in.
Crawford anchored Vinny Del Negro's second unit, with Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom, and Matt Barnes running alongside they were a fast, scruffy outfit with minimal discipline. At it's best the unit played at a breakneck pace, defended spectacularly (though not consistently), and worked up an almost out-of-control offense with Crawford in the forefront. Crawford was nothing if not creative, with his wicked crossover, he'd create space on a whim, rise up, banshee-like, and launch long-distance bombs. He often got to the rim and is a genius at the free throw line with an average of .871 last year. He was perfect fit in Del Negro's laissez-faire offense.
Of course consistency isn't Crawford's strong suit. He vanished in the second half of the Clips lone playoff series and he went for long ineffective stretches in the regular season- usually on road trips. And while he's an excellent passer the thought doesn't always occur to him.
Then there's his defense. Jamal Crawford's not so much as a horrible defender as he is simply ineffective. He seems to play man defense well enough, he's quick, reasonably committed, and he's more or less in the right spot at the right time but stronger players (that is almost everyone) muscle him off the dribble.
Off the court Crawford was also a bit of a surprise. First, there's his looks. He's got a withery build that makes him kind of phantom-like or like a Kenyan long distance runner. He doesn't look anywhere near as quick, coordinated, or capable as he is. Then there's his quiet, thoughtful demeanor. He's surprisingly erudite. During last season he often spoke eloquently about his teammates and the coaching staff.
Now, bear with me for a moment while I share a personal anecdote. A long time ago I visited the Italian region of Tuscany. Anyone who's ever been there will tell you the same thing: It's one of the most beautiful places on earth. The weather's great, the landscape's beautiful, there are rolling hills, rich fields, vineyards, etc. And the food is spectacular, you can't get a bad meal... and I think absolutely all of that is true, but it's not what I remember...
I was staying in a "penzione", a rustic farmhouse somewhere near one of the hill towns. It was late in the day, around sunset, and I was walking, exploring the vineyards and farm land. I wandered into an orchard of some sort. There were lines of neat, mature trees that had been pruned so the vegetation grew like a canopy. I stopped to take in the view and study the overhanging roof of tree limbs. All of a sudden one of the limbs moved. It was big, maybe three inches in diameter and it writhed and twisted and finally vanished. I was stunned and terrified, because of course it wasn't a limb at all, it was a snake... an adder or a viper or an asp or some goddamn thing. It was big and biblical. And while I'd happened on plenty of snakes in my time I had never seen one in a tree.
I got away from there pretty quickly and I didn't hang out under any more trees on that trip. And when someone mentions "Tuscany" I don't think about beautiful landscapes, about the duomo in Florence, the great food or wine. I think about snakes in trees, big snakes, tree adders. Now I count myself lucky that for whatever reason that snaker didn't choose to drop down on me that day, because why else was he up there but to drop down on some unsuspecting doofus and fang him to death or crush him and finally eat him (or whatever it is a viper or adder actually does)?
So what on earth does all this have to do with Jamal Crawford? Jamal Crawford is a tree adder. He's not a guy who's gonna look at a complicated plan on a piece of paper, who's going to run through triple screens, receive the ball off the fourth or fifth clever pass and calmly drill a bucket. He's not organized like that.
If you showed a tree adder (or any adder) a complicated plan involving four other snakes, arrows, curls, x's and o's, all carefully designed to confuse his prey, the adder won't know what to do... because he just wants to climb up out on the limb, wait for an unsuspecting innocent, drop on top of him, and do his thing.
Jamal Crawford is a really really good tree adder. Last year the Clippers coaching staff really didn't design any plays, they just sent guys into the trees and have at it. But this year, Doc Rivers and Alvin Gentry have cornered the market on Sharpies and white boards. They are as organized as Eisenhower on D-Day. No more Eric Bledsoe scaring people to death with his out-of-control coast-to-coast sprints of Jihadic demeanor. No more Jamal Crawford slithering around in the trees pouncing on the doofi.
At least that's what I thought before training camp. But Doc Rivers is a smart guy, and he may have this figured out already. Because when Jamal was at his best in pre-season, he wasn't following carefully orchestrated footprints like he was learning to waltz at Arthur Murray's. Doc was cutting him loose along with the similar madmanic Darren Collison. (Which, to me anyway, is a bit of a surprise because my only exposure to Collison waw when he was chained up in Ben Howland's painfully deliberate UCLA offense a few years ago.)
Of course, it might not matter, because the Clippers have a bunch of other guys who can play that ballroom game (guys named Reddick, Greene, Dudley, Bullock, even Barnes). Add to the equation that the Clippers are almost certainly light on big defenders and there are more than a few us who believe The Tree Adder is the Clippers most expendable valuable asset (as opposed to expendable invaluable asset... of which there are several). Might Jamal be gone before the trading deadline in February, dumped to get under the cap or traded for a big or both? A few weeks ago, I thought such a deal was inevitable. But then we saw some of the preseason games, and, in several of them, we caught a flash of Tree Adder Jamal, taking the ball with seconds on the clock, shaking, baking, wowing the crowd, rising up and draining the bucket and we immediately think, "WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU EVER TRADE THIS GUY?"... after all tree adders don't actually grow on trees.