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Jordan Crawford Quietly Emerging as Boston Celtics Most Attractive Trade Chip

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Jordan Crawford Quietly Emerging as Boston Celtics Most Attractive Trade Chip
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As fourth-year guard Jordan Crawford continues sprinting through his breakout season, the Boston Celtics suddenly find themselves with an unlikely backcourt problem.

Well, it's more of a puzzle than a problem.

Crawford is cooking right now. He's shooting (.444/.370), distributing (5.5 assists) and rebounding (3.2) at career rates. He's already taken home his first Eastern Conference Player of the Week award and should think about investing in a trophy case since there's no telling what type of hardware will follow.

But he also shares a position with two of Boston's best players—Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. And his track record suggests that a crash back to reality is more likely than more shattered ceilings.

So while Crawford's enjoying a present some thought he'd never have, he's also emerging as a pivotal piece of this franchise's future. A future that could be best served by taking him out of the picture.

 

Backcourt Logjam

Rondo's still recovering from the torn ACL that cut short his 2012-13 campaign, but recent reports seem to place him back on the NBA hardwood sooner than later:

Some have wondered aloud how his return will affect Crawford's status going forward, a development that's simply remarkable on its own.

"There are people concerned about bringing back an All-Star point guard with a championship ring because of how well the guy some would have traded for a bag of balls this summer is performing," ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg wrote.

Crawford's rise has been equal parts exciting and unexpected.

The former Xavier star had developed a reputation for shooting without a conscience, and not in the good, game-closing kind of way. Now, he's utilizing his deep bag of offensive tricks to elevate the players around him.

He might seem like the perfect complement for the pass-first extremist Rondo, but Boston already has an ideal running mate for the four-time All-Star in Avery Bradley.

Unable to reach a contract extension before the start of the season, it's been a show-and-prove year for Bradley. So far, he's showing what kind of offensive weapon he can be and proving that his defensive nods were warranted.

Over his past 10 games, the defensive stopper has been feeling particularly offensive. He's averaging 15.4 points over that stretch on 50.0 percent shooting from the field and 51.3 percent sniping from distance.

Bradley is one of just three Boston regulars with a positive net rating on the season (plus-0.5 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com). During these last 10 games, that number has jumped to a team-leading plus-15.9.

While he's opening some eyes around the franchise, none of this surprises him.

"I always knew that, once I got an opportunity, I'd be able to show that I'm an offensive player as well," he said, via Forsberg.

Bradley and Crawford are two of three Celtics, along with Jeff Green, seeing more than 30 minutes of floor time a night. Once Rondo, who averaged just under 33 minutes over his first seven seasons, returns, something will have to give in this rotation.

That odd man out will likely be the player no one pegged as part of this equation before the season started. Boston's not the only team tracking Crawford's rapid rise.

 

Suitors Emerging

There are a number of variables that have allowed Crawford to realize this breakout effort, not the least of which is a new-found comfort with his place inside the organization.

"I don’t have to look over my shoulder [anymore]," he said, via Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe.

But with Rondo on his way back and Bradley developing his two-way talents, there may be nowhere else for Crawford to look. And if Crawford's looking back, then Celtics team president Danny Ainge might be forced to look forward.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Offers are reportedly already crossing Ainge's desk, and not for his hobbled floor general.

Several general managers have cited Crawford as potential Dwyane Wade insurance for the Miami Heat, via Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News. Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico has heard that the Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks could also be in the mix.

There's a reason teams are interested in Crawford, and it's not solely based on his improving stat sheets.

He's on the books for just $2.1 million this season, via ShamSports.com. He's slated to hit the restricted free-agent market next summer.

In other words, he's a low-risk, high-reward asset for this season, offering as much control over his future as a franchise desires. If he falls back to his shot-chucking habits, then teams can cut bait and be out nothing more than a minimal financial hit. If he keeps scoring and assisting the way he has been, then one of these suitors could find an always coveted combo guard.

Crawford, at his best, can give defenses fits. He's a microwave shooter, keeping things hotter now than he ever has. His yo-yo handles have taken on a new life since defenses can no longer tell if he's using them to create for himself or his teammates.

His track record can't be expunged. He won't net a superstar on the trade market, nor command a superstar's salary next summer.

But he's no longer bringing back, as Forsberg had put it, that bag of balls, either.

The Celtics can deal from a position of strength to solidify a position of need. That's a luxury rarely afforded to NBA teams, let alone ones in the early stages of a rebuilding project.

Yet, that's where Boston finds itself. And that's the reason Crawford might find himself making another first impression.

 

Can't the Celtics Keep Him Around?

Sure, they can.

Coach Brad Stevens has already started discussing how Crawford might fit alongside his backcourt mates.

"That guy (Crawford) can really play with the ball, but he can also play off the ball," Stevens said, via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. "And the best teams I’ve ever coached have always had multiple point guards on the floor at once, especially when it was in crunch time."

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

But Boston has to figure out exactly where it's at and where it wants to go from here.

The Eastern Conference is largely wide open. With just a 12-14 record, the Celtics are sitting as unlikely Atlantic Division leaders and, as such, owners of the No. 4 seed in the conference.

Woefully short on talent, the Celtics would actually host an opening-round series if the postseason started today.

But how much farther does the franchise's ceiling exist beyond that? The East might be short on bullies, but the two packing the meanest punches—the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat—could mow over the Celtics without breaking a sweat.

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There's also the very real possibility that the Empire State gets its act together. The almost healthy Brooklyn Nets seem ready to turn a corner after winning four of their last five. The New York Knicks could get a similar boost from Tyson Chandler's impending return.

Boston's ride at the top, much like Crawford's, has been enjoyable but rarely felt sustainable. Would it be that big of a shock if the Celtics fell out of the playoff picture before the trade deadline rolled around?

This team needs to embrace the present, but never lose sight of its ultimate goal—improving the future.

There's a reason Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are balling in Brooklyn, that Doc Rivers now calls the Staples Center home.

The Celtics are starting over, a potentially powerful process not unlike what Crawford has enjoyed on their watch. Crawford's been a nice boost, but he's more like found money than a winning lottery ticket.

Shopping him won't guarantee a jackpot payday. But if Ainge starts scratching around the market with his new-found trade chip, he might be surprised what he can find.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

 

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