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2015-2016 Clippers Player Preview: Jamal Crawford

The key question isn't how Jamal Crawford will play, but where?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

2014-2015 Key Stats

64 GP, 26.6 MIN, 15.8 PTS, 39.6% FG, 32.7% 3PT, 16.71 PER

Has a player preview ever felt so much like a farewell?

We normally spend October discussing how a given player fits the Clipper plan. Instead, I'm here to discuss how Jamal Crawford seems no longer part of the plan.

None of what comes is an attempt to diminish Jamal's abilities as a basketball player. He is a shot creator, an honorarium pooh-poohed by a generation of smarter fans that worship at the altar of efficiency, team play, corner threes, and the San Antonio Spurs. Wide-open corner threes are nice and all, but most NBA defenses are of high quality. They are orchestrated by basketball savants who spend near-literal lifetimes analyzing the game, and executed by men with near-literal superhuman length, strength, and athleticism. I am confident I could not get any kind of shot off against an NBA defense, and I am confident many of you could not either. More relevant to this discussion, neither could scores of other ball-dominant guards, who are now plying their trade in Europe, Asia, or in other industries all together.

Jamal Crawford can get his shot off.

. . . . .

"I wanted the second unit to be guard-less, meaning Austin isn’t a point guard, Lance isn’t a point guard, Jamal’s not a point guard. But all of them can dribble." - Doc Rivers to the OC Register on September 24, 2015

For most of his Clipper career, Jamal has filled a specific role. The Clippers' frequent lack of bench depth has required them to lean on Jamal for offense for long stretches of mid-half play. In that crucial lull in the early second and fourth quarters, when most starters rest before a final push, Jamal has shared the floor with basketball luminaries like Byron Mullens and Jordan Farmar. Even in more prosperous times, his bench mates tended toward excellence at the opposite end of the floor — think of defensive stalwarts like Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin.

Jamal's prominence was partially a result of the Clippers' stars-and-scrubs approach, an approach forced upon them by the NBA's restrictive salary cap system and the timing in which they acquired Chris Paul while Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan emerged as players who demanded star attention and equivalent paychecks. Hampered by the NBA's unfavorable player acquisition rules for teams over the salary cap, the Clippers had a yawning vacancy for anyone who could score while their stars rested. For Jamal Crawford, it was the perfect role.

That role appears to have disappeared, largely usurped by offseason additions Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce. This is a team that no longer lacks secondary firepower. In fact, the team finds itself having a #firstworldproblem that is possessing too many options. Austin Rivers remains. Josh Smith was acquired for his defense, but will no doubt take his chances on offense. Pablo Prigioni, a strong shooter and capable point guard, waits with the third string.

And as is so often the case in asset management, the option you know best is the option you want least. Novelty is fun. Novelty holds exciting potential. Familiarity is boring. It's inertia.

Of course, roster-building is more complicated than that. As the Clippers have been ousted prior to the conference finals four years consecutively, it may be apparent to Doc Rivers that a new bench strategy is needed. This roster looks more flexible, at least superficially. Gone may be the hockey-line approach begun by Vinny Del Negro and regularly maintained by Doc. Blake's continuing emergence as a playmaker should allow the Clippers to stagger their two stars, ensuring that either he or Chris Paul will be on the floor for nearly every playoff minute played. I ignore the regular season purposefully -- it's in the playoffs where this team will be measured.

Having two possession-needy and highly efficient offensive stars to split all 48 game minutes turns the less efficient but equally possession-greedy Jamal Crawford from asset to liability. He was always a double-edged sword, but the Clippers no longer need to risk being stabbed by their own weapon.

. . . . .

"I've heard all the rumors about Jamal going other places. Jamal's a Clipper and I would be very surprised if he's not a Clipper by the season's end." - Doc Rivers to Fred Roggin on The Beast 980 AM on September 11, 2015

So far, Doc Rivers has maintained that Jamal Crawford is a Clipper and will continue to be a Clipper. Why wouldn't he? Jamal is a valuable trade chip, and some team will inevitably fall prey to poor injury luck and into the market for a proven scorer. That value decreases dramatically if Doc hangs a for sale sign and discount tag around the neck of his veteran guard. For the time being, Jamal will be a "key" Clipper.

But Doc's not fooling me, and I'd bet most of you are equally wise to his game. Jamal is an extra part. Worse, he's a redundant part. Unless one of the Clippers' guards goes down for an extended time, it's clear Jamal is on his way out.

So instead of looking forward, we begin this season by looking back. Jamal Crawford proved to be just what the Clippers needed during the franchise's emergence into NBA legitimacy. By PER, his three-year run in Clipper red has been the most efficient stretch of his career. He is a joy to watch with the ball in his hands, an extraordinary ballhandler with a bag of tricks Mary Poppins would envy. I wouldn't call him a good defender, but he cares more than he's given credit for. Jamal often and ably battled much larger players as the de facto 3 in Doc's 3-guard lineups.

On many nights, and in many fourth quarters, Jamal Crawford played the hero. He drilled 25-foot threes, scored in bunches of 12 or 13, and gave potency to punchless bench units. He's just no longer the hero the team seems to need anymore.