So you all had this one pegged from the very beginning right? Luke Babbitt gets his first career start, sets a new career high in points scored, and in the process Portland loses by 18. That sounds about right for this season.
I guess the nice thing about Monday’s loss (which by the way catapulted the Suns into the eighth spot in the Western Conference and has now officially eliminated Portland from the post season at least according to NBA.com’s standings) is that most of the guys that saw heavy minutes are going to elsewhere next season. The other good thing is that a few of the guys that have shined over the last few weeks will probably be Blazers in 2012-13.
If you’ll allow me to skip talking about Monday’s game entirely (here’s my opinion in a nutshell: Phoenix’s non-stop offense versus Portland’s no-stop defense, the end) I’ll take a few minutes to talk about the one guy that right now is in a little bit of limbo, and could very possibly tip the scales one way or another next season.
That one guy? Jamal Crawford.
Jamal Crawford is looking at a player option for 2012-13. It’s up to him to choose where he plays next season, but he’s got a $5 million paycheck coming from Portland if he decides to take the option. At this point in his career, $5 million probably isn’t enough to automatically keep him out of the free agent pool, but it’s also a large enough pay check that if I were in his position I would think twice before just kissing it goodbye, especially considering that if he doesn’t opt out this year he’ll also be an unrestricted free agent in 2013-14.
The real factor at play here with Jamal Crawford, though, might have less to do with his wanting to play or not play in Portland. Everybody knows that most teams have cleared a ton of cap space for this coming off season. That means there is going to be money to spend. Some of that money might very well be thrown in Jamal Crawford’s direction.
OK, now that all the background information is in play, let me make a case for wanting Jamal Crawford to stay in a Blazer uniform for one more season.
Like most of the experiments surrounding this team, the Jamal Crawford Experiment this season has not been overly successful. Blame it on whatever you like. I’ll choose to lay the blame on pressure to perform beyond his ability (his neither a point guard nor Brandon Roy) and the lack of a preseason in which for him to gel with his new teammates.
But here’s why I think Jamal staying would be a positive, and believe it or not it pertains in some way to what happened Monday night in Phoenix. The Blazers right now are in need of a lot of things. Chief among them, point guards (a starter and a back-up), a big or two, and a reliable bench scoring option.
Right now what the Blazers have is basically no point guard (Raymond Felton is toast, no pun intended, and Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith probably aren’t the answer), a very serviceable big in J.J. Hickson, and hardly a reliable bench scoring option.
In his first start Monday night, Luke Babbitt proved that he can carry a mini-load offensively, but he’s far from the ice cold killer who will come off the bench and shoot the other team out of the gym. Jamal Crawford was supposed to be that bench scoring option, and that’s basically where the experiment has failed, he just simply hasn’t been consistent.
To be better next season, as in make the Playoffs, Portland should be looking to rebuild with the least amount of steps possible. If the Blazers’ second unit includes Elliot Williams at the three, Luke Babbitt at the four, Jamal Crawford at the two, some as of yet unmentioned draft pick or free agent signing at the one, and Joel Przybilla at the five (Hickson/Aldridge being the starting front court), then they’re already more than half the way there. A Williams/Babbitt three/four is short to say the least, but Luke stretches the floor, and Elliot is going to be hard for anybody to guard. Also playing Luke Babbitt and Jamal Crawford together limits an opponents ability to double team, since neither guys is afraid to chuck it from where every they may be standing when they catch the ball.
So see if you get what I’m going for here. By having Jamal Crawford once again on Portland’s roster in 2012-13, the Blazers’ front office has one fewer thing to look for in the off season, one fewer piece that may in fact be very hard to find.
Monday, Jamal was far from great (7-of-16 from the field, 0-of-4 from three, 22 points but only because he got to the free throw line 10 times), but if you’ve watched him at all this season you should know that he can do things that guys like Jonny Flynn or Nolan Smith or Luke Babbitt just can’t. Maybe with a whole season under his belt, a regular off season, and a full training camp, some of the consistency that made Crawford Sixth Man of the Year will return, and maybe some of the 0-fers from three will go away.
Of course, Jamal staying in Portland is now up to him. I doubt he stays, the money from free agency is likely to be too much for him to turn down. And even if he does stay, there’s no guarantee he can turn it around next season. I will say this though, Raymond Felton on the roster next year could blow up 2012-13 before it even hits the runway. Jamal Crawford however, will probably not have the same effect.
I say that Crawford’s positives out-weigh his negatives mostly because even as bad as he’s been, he is still the kind of player Portland needs to have on the roster if they are interested in making a serious push in the post season. He will, however, have to find a way to get a whole lot better.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Portland’s next home game will be their last of this season, so enjoy it.
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