Top Landing Spots for NBA Free Agent Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford has seen it all, done it all and crossed it all over during his 19-year NBA career.
But that hasn't diminished his desire for a 20th go-round.
"On, no," Crawford told The Athletic's Gina Mizell in April. "... When you love [the game], you'll do anything to play."
With training camps opening in less than a month, though, it's fair to wonder if the 39-year-old will have that chance. His scoring is stuck in a five-year slide, last season's player efficiency rating was the second-worst of his career and he's been a below-average three-point shooter over the past two campaigns.
That said, he's an ignitable scorer—he closed the 2018-19 campaign with a 51-point outburst—with loads of experience, a sharp basketball mind and some of the tightest handles in the business.
He won't appeal to everyone, but he'd make sense for the following five squads.
Los Angeles Lakers
After splurging on the superstar combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers searched for free-agent values with good-to-great outside shots. But their only non-star shot-creator is Rajon Rondo, and he rarely looks at the basket from long range.
If Crawford came in and found a comfortable role, he might be one of their only perimeter players offering more than spot-up sniping. In 2016-17, when he suited up for L.A.'s other star-studded team, he ranked in the 69th percentile on isolations. He also cleared 36 percent from three, a conversion rate north of last season's league-average of 35.5.
That could be critical in both buying rest for James and Davis and helping to keep the offense flowing when one or both are unavailable.
"I hope [Crawford] goes to a team like the Lakers," retired NBA veteran Gilbert Arenas told Landon Buford, via Heavy.com's Brandon Robinson. "They need your outside shooting. They also need your creativity to provide more baskets and they need another guard."
Crawford already has at least one fan within the Purple and Gold. When the three-time Sixth Man of the Year hit the open market in 2017, James recruited him to join the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's hard to imagine that interest has dissipated, as Crawford has been roughly the same player per 36 minutes over the past two seasons as the one that preceded the King's courtship.
Though Andre Iguodala would be the Lakers' preferred choice for a bench vet, the Memphis Grizzlies may not buy him out. Crawford would be quite the consolation prize as the best option currently available.
On the surface, the Milwaukee Bucks are in excellent shape on the offensive end. They ranked fourth in offensive efficiency this past season, and they return four of the top five scorers from that squad.
But the offseason departure of Malcolm Brogdon looms quietly large over this attack. He not only put on a shooting display for the ages (50.5/42.6/92.8 slash line), but he had stretches in the conference finals—a series he dove into after a nearly two-month absence—where he looked like Milwaukee's best offensive option not named Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"Brogdon was more than just a shooter for the Bucks," The Athletic's Eric Nehm wrote. "He drove to the basket more than anyone on the team outside of Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe. Brogdon made plays and averaged more than three assists per game. His versatility is why the Bucks were never going to be able to find a player to replace him."
Crawford can't replace Brogdon, but he could add some of the off-the-dribble verve the Brogdon-less Bucks need. This supporting cast is heavy on catch-and-fire snipers—Brook Lopez, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova—which helps clear attack lanes for Giannis but limits this team's ability to counterpunch when defenses force the shooting specialists to create.
Crawford's ability to generate shots could be vital, especially if Donte DiVincenzo isn't ready for a spark-plug role. (Added bonus: Who better to teach DiVincenzo the tricks of the instant-offense trade than Crawford?) Even if Crawford would be more of an insurance policy than a guaranteed rotation player, Milwaukee should explore every possible avenue of improvement with Antetokounmpo's 2021 free agency looming.
Did the euphoria of snapping a six-year playoff drought warp the Orlando Magic's offseason approach? That's a subjective debate, and honestly, it doesn't matter. The Magic sense an opportunity to build off last year's 42-win breakout, and they spent big to try to capitalize on it.
Nikola Vucevic scored a four-year, $100 million deal after making his All-Star debut. Terrence Ross earned a four-year, $50 million commitment by posting new personal bests in points, threes, rebounds and assists. Each player will be well into his 30s by the time these contracts come off the books.
Those are called win-now investments, so if the Magic want to think short-term, they should search for more perimeter firepower. Crawford could address that need in two different ways.
No backcourt reserve can match his combination of scoring and table-setting. He and Ross could keep second-team defenses under constant duress. They could split No. 1 option duties off the bench, and they'd surely connect on some highlight alley-oops in transition or off timely cuts. This defense should be good (eighth in efficiency last season), but offensive growth will be key to any significant move up the standings.
As for Crawford's other contribution, he might be the Magic's best bet for getting 2017's top pick, Markelle Fultz, on track. Crawford told Brandon Robinson that Fultz "is like a little brother to me" and that they "talk every other day" (via NBC Sports Philadelphia's Matt Haughton). If Fultz's shoulder cooperates, the 21-year-old could be this team's ace in the hole. Getting him a mentor like Crawford would be huge.
Like last season, the Philadelphia 76ers should again have one of the Association's best starting fives. Replacing Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick with Al Horford and Josh Richardson might not be the smoothest transition, but the end result still projects as elite.
As for the reserve group, though, there are a lot of unknowns. When the consistently inconsistent Mike Scott feels like the surest thing, this has a juggling-with-chainsaws kind of feel. It could look awesome if everything breaks right, but there are myriad ways it could go wrong.
Crawford couldn't cover all of them, but he would address a worrisome level of reliance on unproven players.
Basketball Insiders' projected depth chart shows Raul Neto and Matisse Thybulle in the reserve 1 and 2 spots. Neto hasn't averaged 13 minutes in three seasons. Thybulle is about to start his first. Behind them are Trey Burke (fifth team in seven years) and Zhaire Smith (111 career minutes). Going four-deep only adds more unpredictability with Shake Milton (20 career games) and Furkan Korkmaz (62 appearances in two years).
With Crawford, the Sixers would at least know what to expect. He's not the most efficient scorer (career 41.0 percent shooting), but he has delivered award-winning volume. Plus, he's still growing as a passer—no, seriously, he just set a career mark with 6.8 assists per 36 minutes—and even his modest three-point stroke would be a welcome addition alongside the spacing-challenged duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Donovan Mitchell needed scoring help, so the Utah Jazz turned over 40 percent of their opening lineup. Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors are out. Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic are in, an adjustment sure to perk up the NBA's 14th-ranked offense perhaps with minimal damage done to its second-ranked defense.
But drop down to the second unit, and this looks like the group that saw its offensive output dip 4.3 points per 100 possessions when Mitchell took a seat.
Other than the explosive-but-erratic Jeff Green, none of these reserves would be labeled as a scorer. Dante Exum and Emmanuel Mudiay are non-shooters. Royce O'Neale and Ed Davis supply defense and toughness. Georges Niang is at his best creating for others.
Crawford could add another live-ball threat to the equation. Even in a down year, he was one of just 15 players to average 15 points, six assists and two triples per 36 minutes (minimum 40 games).
His willingness to share the basketball—remember, he just had his best passing season on a bad Phoenix Suns team—and ability to hit from distance means he could handle spot minutes with the starters. His self-sufficient scoring would help him share the offensive load with Green on the reserve unit. With Utah aiming for the league's highest sum of its parts, Crawford would be another helpful puzzle piece.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.