Rumors about Jamal Crawford's future are all over the place.
The Los Angeles Clippers are in need of a defensive-minded wing, and their sixth man may be the guy to get it for them—against his wishes or not.
The question isn't, "Should the Clippers trade Crawford?" Suggesting a player swap as a one-way proposition is somewhat pointless.
Oh, so the Clippers should trade Crawford? For what? For whom?
It doesn't make sense, and we hear this all the time in trade gossip without anyone actually naming names. In reality, we need to know a specific deal before we answer if the Clips should ship off their best reserve, who's once again a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate and already has two of those trophies resting in his case.
The better question to ask is, "Should the Clippers be open to trading Crawford?"
There's no doubt about Crawford's importance to this Clippers team, and he's become even more valuable this season than in past years with the way the reserve unit has struggled.
He brings so much to the Clippers on the surface: ball-handling from someone not named Chris Paul, late-clock shot-creation, bench scoring, crunch-time minutes. But in order to receive something, you have to give up something, and the Clippers are in desperate need of a wing defender.
L.A. currently ranks 14th in points allowed per possession, down from eighth last season, largely because it's lacking athleticism and defense on the perimeter. Smart team defenders don't necessarily cut it as a full unit, and the Clippers need someone who can guard the Kevin Durants or even the Gerald Greens of the world one-on-one.
Unfortunately for Crawford, the NBA is about assets, and he's the best asset L.A. has.
Paul, who turns 30 this season, and Blake Griffin are locked up on long deals. DeAndre Jordan becomes a free agent this summer but is the coal that helps the defense run and seems Los Angeles-bound once again.
Crawford may be essential to his team, important to the scoring and bench attack, but he's about the only moveable asset the Clippers roster holds. (J.J. Redick is probably a desirable piece for some, but has a bigger contract, more years remaining on his deal and is more of a piece to fit into a specific system than he is a freelancer who could make an impact without going through training camp, like Crawford.)
Crawford has two years at a little more than $11 million left on his deal, but next season's salary is only partially guaranteed for $1.5 million (as long as whichever team he's on waives him by June 30).
An organization could reasonably acquire him on a rental deal and then clear cap space over the summer, letting him walk into free agency with a relatively fiscal buyout. Or it could hold onto him for the contract's duration, picking up a guard who can give you points and fire off the bench on a deal that's basically mid-level exception money.
At least publicly, Crawford says he's not affected by the rumors, as he told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi in mid-December:
I've been in trade rumors ever since I've been here. It's the weirdest thing, but it's part of the business, honestly. I can play here. I would love to play here, but if not, if something happens, then you move on and do what you got to do ... I hear it all. I'm very honest. I'm very transparent. I hear it all, for sure.
Crawford may follow the news, but head coach Doc Rivers takes a different approach, per Markazi:
I honestly don't read anything. The fact that Jamal's name is being mentioned, this is the first I've heard of it, literally right now. I don't get into it. You guys are going to ask him about every rumor that's out there. It's just so much bogus chatter.
In a way, though, the Clippers are in this position because of Rivers' inability to compile depth on his squad's roster while doubling as president of basketball operations.
The Clippers' lack of assets is punctuated with Reggie Bullock and C.J. Wilcox, back-to-back first-round wings who can't seem to find the floor. The Clips possibly should've traded Bullock long ago—probably over the summer, when his market value was a question mark. But that wasn't such a bad thing.
Now, with each minute he plays—or doesn't play—the 23-year-old's value falls.
The intrigue in Bullock coming into the year was that we didn't really know what he was after his rookie season, when he didn't play much after an injury knocked him out of Rivers' rotation early and left him unable to recover into a full-time role. The college scouting report on him still applied, and considering he was a 25th overall pick and consensus first-rounder coming out of North Carolina in 2013, there were teams who—at the very least—appreciated his three-and-D potential.
At this point, 34 games into the Clippers' season, teams can see struggles moving off the ball and guarding off it on the other end. It's hard to imagine Bullock has as much value as he did even a few months ago though it is possible he wasn't thought of particularly highly following his inconsequential rookie year, anyway.
Wilcox, meanwhile, is a Bullock facsimile who has played exactly 11 minutes this season.
With Wilcox and Bullock still irrelevant, the Clippers don't just lose out on potential contributors but also assets. And that leads us back to Crawford.
Wilson Chandler's name continues to surface with the Denver Nuggets sitting at 14-20. Jeff Green's does, as well. But the Clippers would need to add a little salary to trade for either of those players since each makes more than Crawford. But it does seem like, if the Clippers were to make a deal for someone consequential, Crawford would be the guy to go.
This team doesn't really have anyone else with on-court value and a friendly contract (with Griffin, Paul and Jordan off-limits, of course). So if the Clippers do, in fact, want to upgrade on the wing to take advantage of a championship window that is hardly never-ending, maybe Crawford does have to be the bait, not because of his flaws, but because of his strengths.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.