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The Clock is Ticking on Jamal Crawford's Contract

The guarantee date nears by the minute.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Clippers veteran shooting guard and two-time NBA 6th Man of the Year Jamal Crawford might not have a place on this team anymore.  After having his worst season as a Clipper (even before his injuries) and then being the biggest letdown on a bench unit full of underwhelming players in the postseason, Jamal Crawford was never a safe bet to return.  However, the recent acquisition of Lance Stephenson further jeopardized Crawford's role as sixth man and backup shooting guard, and rumors have incessantly swirled, linking Crawford to deals that sound promising but never materialize.

The Clippers are running out of time.

Doc Rivers and his staff have openly shopped Jamal this summer, just as they have in years past, without ever successfully persuading a trade partner to give up one of LA's targets.  It has become clear over the years that Jamal's trade value is incredibly low, to the extent that the consensus opinion seems to be that if he is to be moved, whatever trade value he has left lies in his contract, not in his play.

Jamal's 4-year, full Mid-Level Exception contract was structured such that the final two years, each worth over $5 million, would only be $1.5 million guaranteed if Crawford was waived in time to find a new suitor in free agency.  This presents a certain amount of intrigue for teams desperate to save money, or create additional cap room, as Crawford's current salary could be swapped for a player making just over $7 million, and in return, the Clippers' trade partners would only owe a waived Crawford $1.5 million, saving up to $5.5 million from their cap figure heading into free agency.  However, it hasn't come to fruition yet.

And the Clippers are running out of time.

I've been harking on it for a while now: the Clippers have 3 holes to fill, and two non-minimum tools with which to fill them.  They need a quality third big, and they need two small forwards.  One tool is the taxpayer mid-level exception, and the other is Jamal Crawford as a trade chip.  As it now stands, the team is under 72 hours away from losing one of those two tools without filling any of the holes (ShamSports' language says he must be waived "on or before" June 30, meaning the team has until 11:59pm EST, 6/30/15).

Jamal's on-court utility isn't zero, however.  He still scored over 21 points per 36 minutes last season, but his efficiency was low, under 40% from the field and 33% from deep.  It's worth noting that Crawford isn't necessarily a bad shooter--he simply takes a lot of bad shots, which is at least partly due to the constant isolation plays he is part of.  Whether those bad shots are a sign of selfishness and low basketball IQ by Crawford or poor gameplanning by the coaching staff is speculative, but there is still a good chance that Crawford can be reigned in to a smaller role and thrive.  It would likely require the 15-year NBA veteran to take an unprecedented cut in minutes and shot attempts, as well as the least on-ball action he's been given in a long while, but 35 is a good age for a player who wants to extend his career to adjust his game.  It's possible, but I'm beyond skeptical.  Jamal is the NBA equivalent of Jack Black--he's a fairly big name, he's good, but he'll never be the best at what he does, and no matter what environment you plug him in to, he only knows how to play one way.

I saw Clippers fans discussing trading Crawford for a second-round pick, and balked at the idea.  The idea isn't to dump one of the Clippers' main players for nothing, the idea is to try and use him to find a player who is a better fit.  As much as I have been a critic of Crawford's play both in this piece and throughout his tenure in Los Angeles, there's no denying that he helps the team better than a second rounder would.

This begs the question: why are no teams interested in Jamal Crawford as a player, if not as a contract?  I'm well aware of his flaws, but it's hard to believe that teams would balk at the mention of his name in trade talks.  Would Charlotte have been against Jamal's inclusion in the place of Barnes in the Lance Stephenson trade?  What exactly is Crawford's trade value?  We know it's not much, but has it dropped so far as to be negative?  In a league where many teams have players that would, put nicely, fit into Bill Simmons' "irrational confidence guy" mold, it's odd that potential trade partners have avoided the shooting guard so stubbornly.  Maybe the Clippers are simply asking too much for a 35-year-old player who can't start.

But they're running out of time.

If the Clippers can swing a trade to move Jamal for a player that can play 20-25 minutes a night at small forward, or a player just as solid that can relieve both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, there's still hope of a balanced roster.  Without such a deal, the Clippers have backed themselves into a corner once again, and barring luck with minimum salary deals, Doc Rivers will be forced to employ three-guard lineups against a landscape of competition whose "small-ball" is a misnomer--there's nothing small about four athletic freaks 6'6"-6'10" with all-around games, and it's hard to play against that with a perimeter rotation 6'5" and under across the board.

The clock is still ticking.  The Clippers have until the minute before free agency opens to move Jamal to a team that will cut him before he instead is forced to return to a reduced role on a team that was trying their hardest to rid themselves of him.  Trades that are dead can be revived in a moment's time, and a deal previously never considered can be finalized within minutes if both teams are eager and a deadline looms.  There's still a chance for the Clippers to make an aggressive move to improve the roster before DeAndre Jordan begins meeting with other teams on Wednesday.

But the Clippers are very nearly out of time.