As outlined in our previous post here explaining the Clippers' roster and salary situation this summer, the Clippers as a team have very limited means to improve in free agency. Because they lie so far above the salary cap, and likely far into tax territory if they resign DeAndre Jordan to a max deal, the team will have only a few means to sign players: Bird Rights on their own free agents, the mini (taxpayer's) mid level exception, and veteran minimum deals.
Despite finishing with 56 wins and being a top 3 team by many metrics, the Clippers have a number of holes to fill in their roster most explicitly at small forward and overall depth. Perimeter defense killed the Clippers in last year's playoffs, and a lack of bench helped lead to their downfall this year. However with few substantial ways to improve the team through free agent signings, the team must be open to discussing possible trade opportunities: enter Jamal Crawford.
Jamal Crawford is the most notable trade piece in the Clippers's war chest because of his sizable contract for next year, $5,675,000 if picked up by the Clippers, and longstanding pedigree including multiple 6th Man of the Year awards. Looking at the rest of the Clippers's roster, there really aren't other alternative players to trade. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are likely untouchable for this franchise, barring a godfather offer, and J.J. Redick has shown himself to be the engine that makes the number 1 offense the past two season run. Spenser Hawes makes a similar amount of money as Jamal does, both having been signed with the MLE, but after his horrible season, his stock is the lowest it's ever been, meaning you would be getting little value in return. Barnes is another possible trade candidate after a great season, but the Clippers's lack of depth at small forward makes him less expendable. If the Clippers are looking to make a major trade, Jamal is their only real chip.
Under the NBA's trade rules, the Clippers are allowed to take back 125% (plus $100,000) of the salary they send out in a trade for a taxpaying team. Thus, by only trading Jamal alone at $5,675,000, the Clippers would be able to take back a player making about $7.1 million dollars, a potentially big contributor. By adding in other players like C.J. Wilcox or Hudson, the Clippers could find themselves receiving an even larger contract. The Clippers can't trade a first round pick until 2019, so likely we're talking trades with only current Clipper players. But with any trade, there must be a team that values Jamal's services. So what does the market for Jamal look like?
Pros: Jamal has built himself a reputation around the league for being a flamethrower off the bench; a player that can instantly get hot and win your team a game single handedly. Old school players and analysts like Jamal for his ability to get his own shot, and having an incredible knack for knocking down the tough ones he takes regularly. While there is so an increasing emphasis toward less isolation and greater ball movement sweeping the league, having one or two players that can create for themselves will always be a valuable basketball skill. Crawford also has Harden-lite skill of drawing fouls from defenders while being a terrific foul shooter. Besides scoring, Jamal can play the role of distributor at times, partly depending on the roster around him, and though he will never be a plus or even average defender, his team and weak side defense under Doc has improved somewhat. As a final silly plus, watching Jamal play can at times be an absolute joy as he shakes and bakes defenders out of their shoes.
Cons: The minuses surrounding Jamal can often be magnified by his many critics. While being someone that can make tough shots, ultimately those shots are often low percentage looks being contested midrange jumpers a little bit too early in the shot clock. Jamal-ball is a scary occurrence in which Crawford can hijack and muck up an offensive system, looking only to score himself and not getting anyone else involved. You love Jamal when he makes his shots, and you hate him when he misses, which unfortunately was a little too often this last season and in the playoffs shooting a eye-gauging percentage. When Crawford isn't hitting shots, he doesn't provide much else being a sieve on the defensive end.
So what kind of teams would be interested in trading for the enigma of Jamal Crawford? Likely playoff contending teams and those interested in future cap flexibility. Jamal Crawford as a bench scorer is there to help you win games and is one of the best at it; his ability to get his own shot in theory is suited for the playoffs when defenses lock down. Teams that are in the cellar or not looking to compete next year would be focused on rebuilding and developing their young players, not an ideal fit for a 35 year old chucker. The best buyer for Jamal would be a team trying to find a little bit more scoring punch to get over the hump, whether that's to make the playoffs or to enter the land of contenders. Also, Jamal only has this next season remaining on his contract. Thus, a team that trades for him could do so in an attempt to gain more cap flexibility by shipping out a longer term contract for an expiring. A team could also be looking to trade for Jamal before the his contract becomes guaranteed, likely July 1st, in order to dump salary by cutting him and only eat his $1.5 million dollars in guaranteed money. The perfect nexus would be to find a playoff contending team in need of scoring that also is trying to hoard cap space.
The Clippers will have to work hard to find the ideal trade for Jamal, as he's really their only asset of value. I would favor trading Jamal this summer as it gives them more options with his non-guaranteed status, and so that the Clippers could figure out what holes to he can fill and are left to fill in free agency. However, dealing him at the trade deadline if his stock is low is also a possibility. A Crawford trade would likely bring the highest return, so the Clippers need to be looking to find a starting caliber SF by dealing him. This would allow them to move Austin Rivers to SG, and then use the mMLE to sign a quality back up point guard that would allow them to run a system with the reserves. If the Clippers do trade Jamal, I would be looking at signing Jameer Nelson or Beno Udrih for the mMLE to be their backup pg. Another scenario could be to keep Austin at the PG and sign Gary Neal to replace Jamal as a scoring guard off the bench. While Jamal is a valuable bench contributor and could 100% help the Clippers next year, there are just more pressing needs to the current team on the wing, and he happens to be the best chance to fill them.
Some possible trade targets for Jamal are:
The Buy Low Good Fit Guys:
Martell Webster (my personal favorite):
One of the biggest things the Washington Wizards realized this playoffs was that Otto Porter Jr. may actually be a good basketball player. After picking him 3rd overall, Porter had failed to ever really live up to his billing, and the Wizards looked for other solutions at the SF. However, this playoff run may have shown the Wizards enough to roll with Porter as their full time starting 3 next season. These playoffs also showed the Wizards the lack of bench production they had if Wall or Beal go down with injury. Jamal would be able to help their guard depth off the bench and give them another scorer and creator, something the team currently lacks. The Wizards are also the most prominent team chasing Durant in 2016. Facing a looming contract extension for Beal, they will try their best to free up as much cap space as possible in order to be able to offer Durant the max once he becomes available. While Jamal and Webster have similar contracts next year ($5,675,000 vs. $5,613,500) Webster's last one year longer.
Webster provides answers to some of the questions the Clippers have been looking for at SF. He is a long, athletic, above average defender that is also able to shoot the ball with a career 3 point average of .382 and his previous two seasons in Washington coming in at .422 and .392. This season Webster was plagued with injuries after having surgery on a herniated disc and a knee injury, and as a result he largely lost his place in the rotation behind Pierce and Porter. Webster was getting DNPs during the playoffs, thus it would not be far fetched to see the Wizards thinking about dealing him for Jamal.
Budinger is another potential reclamation project for the Clippers to attempt to buy low on this summer by trading Crawford. After two major knee surgeries that threatened to end Budinger's career, he started to show signs of his rehab at the end of last season with a return of athleticism and shooting through March and April. The Wolves have their longterm answers at small forward with Wiggins and Shabazz (whom I would also be interested in) but lack shooting guard depth behind the brittle Kevin Martin. Jamal Crawford could fit in well for a team that struggled to score and stay healthy last year.
The Possible, Depending on How the Other Team Decides to Go:
The Pelicans broke through and made the playoffs this year on the back of the Brow. While that did not save Monty Williams job in the end, it allowed all of basketball twitter the opportunity to gush at how great Anthony Davis is going to become in the future. While the Pelicans certainly have a lot of talent on their team, though they struggled with injuries this last year, the pieces don't really fit together. If they look to make major moves, dealing Jrue Holiday or Tyreke Evans for larger pieces, there could be the possibility that they could use a player like Jamal Crawford to score off the bench and handle the ball. Pondexter would help the Clips as an athletic defender that has had some past success as a shooter.
The Magic have to make some decisions regarding Tobais Harris this summer, and whether or not they'll choose to bring back their budding star. If the Magic keep Harris they'll continue to have a logjam at small forward with last year's first round pick Aaron Gordon. Harkless has continually lost time on the team, falling out of the rotation, but showed promise as a young player the previous year. He is athletic and has had one good shooting season with regular minutes, showing potential for the Clippers, and for the team that signed Ben Gordon to be a contributor off the bench in scoring and shooting, Jamal Crawford is a much better alternative.
The Clipper likely will not have enough to snag away the Suns starting SF, but after the Dudley trade I feel like Phoenix owes us something. A few reasons why the Suns may be interested in a Crawford for Tucker swap, with other components possibly throw in, is that they have a host of young talented wings like Goodwin and Warren that need some playing time, as well as both Morris brother that can fill that role. With an upcoming Brandon Knight extension, and the Morris brothers and Bledsoe extensions kicking in, the Suns may be looking to shed some cap room by dealing Tucker's longer contract for Jamal's shorter one. Jamal would also provide a different look for the dual point guard offense, especially now that they traded away their own 6th man in Isaiah Thomas last year. P.J. Tucker, like his former teammate Dudley, is a solid defender that also functions as a passable shooter from deep.
The Long Shot Dreamer Guys:
Wilson Chandler/ Danilo Gallinari:
Many people have talked about the Clippers targeting Wilson Chandler as the Nuggets do not really seem to know what direction they want to be headed in as a basketball organization, with reportedly almost everyone but Nurkic up for sale. The Nuggets could head into a full rebuild if they decide to move Ty Lawson and perhaps even Kenneth Faried, and if so it would seem possible that Chandler may become available. However, Denver likely would not be interested in exchanging Chandler for Jamal Crawford as it does little to really help their rebuild. The Clippers would likely need to include picks they don't have, a major reason this trade seems unlikely. However, the Nuggets SF that may be more of a possibility could be Danilo Gallinari. After coming off of major knee surgeries, Galo for a large part of the season didn't look like the player he once was. If the Nuggets want to free up some cap room by dealing Danilo to the Clippers and only taking on expiring contracts, that is more of a possibility. But Denver would likely still want picks, something the Clippers are unable to offer.
This may sound crazy considering how great the Warriors have been this year, and especially if they likely make the Finals and win the whole thing. But the reality remains the Warriors are in a very precarious cap position. Next year Klay Thompson's extension kicks in and they have to pay Draymond Green a likely max contract this offseason in order to keep him. The Warriors, with owners shy about paying any type of tax, are looking at being neck deep this season, even though it may just be one before the cap jump. The two cap anchors on their team are David Lee, who is an expiring next year, and Iggy, who's contract goes through the 2016 season. It's safe to say that Iguodala is not worth his $11.7 million dollar billing for this next year. The Clippers would have to give up pretty much all of their trade assets to get him, say Jamal, Barnes, and Wilcox, in order to make salaries match. This could allow Golden State to keep a killer bench adding Jamal and Barnes as expiring contracts, or just cut them before they become guaranteed for greater savings. While this may gut the Clippers in a lot of ways, it would give them one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, even though Iggy has struggled on offense as of late.