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NBA PM: Jamal Crawford Shining With Clippers

Jamal Crawford is having yet another dominant season and he’s the favorite to win this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award

Alex Kennedy

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Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford is 33 years old and this is his 14th season in the NBA, yet somehow he continues to improve from year to year. While other veterans show signs of decline, Crawford continues to strike fear in the opposition with his humiliating crossovers and jaw-dropping scoring ability.

“It’s weird, but I feel like I’m still getting better,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders with a laugh. “Now that I’m 14 years in, some people have been like, ‘Why are you still playing?’ A lot of guys start to plateau at that point or start to [decline], but I feel like I’m still getting better. I love the game of basketball. I’m entrenched in it every single day whether I’m playing it or watching it or talking basketball. For me, it’s still fun. It’s fun to work and see yourself get better. For me, I feel like I can do this for a very long time; God willing, no major injuries.”

This season, Crawford is putting up numbers on par with the best seasons of his career. He’s averaging 18.6 points, 3.3 assists and one steal, as well as the second-highest efficiency rating of his career (17.8). His 29.2 points per 48 minutes rank 12th in the NBA and second among shooting guards (behind only Houston’s James Harden). Crawford is also one of the top clutch players in the league, averaging the third-most points per fourth quarter (6.7 points).

Crawford also has a number of signature performances under his belt this season. He had 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds off of the bench in a win over the Sacramento Kings in late November. He also had 37 points and 11 assists off of the bench in a win over the Toronto Raptors in late January. No other bench player in NBA history has recorded 31 points and 11 assists in a game, yet Crawford did it twice in a two-month span. Crawford is the favorite to win this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award, which would be his second Sixth Man trophy after winning it in 2010 as a member of the Atlanta. However, he’s focused on a bigger goal: winning a championship.

“It would be a wonderful honor,” Crawford said of winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. “Whenever you can get an award, I think it means that your team is successful and you’re having a pretty good season with that. I’m not against it by any means at all, but I’m not playing for it. I’m just playing to win. I’m having fun playing basketball and learning more about the game from my coaches and teammates. It’s still fun for me, especially to see improvement and to see how I can get better. I’m playing to win, and that’s the only thing that really matters to me. Everything else that comes with it, I’ll take it in stride. It would be a total team accomplishment. No matter what awards you win in the season, all that matters is winning the championship.”

Crawford and the Clippers believe that they have what it takes to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this season. L.A. is currently 37-18, which is good for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

“We feel like when we’re really playing our best, we can play with anybody in the league,” Crawford said. “Not to make a cocky statement or anything, we just like our chances. Of course, we have room for growth down the stretch here. We have to get guys healthy and we have to continue to build our trust on both sides of the ball every single night – that’s what we’re working towards. But I like our chances, I really do. I feel like the West is a dog fight every single night so that kind of helps keep you on your toes. The injuries we had were unfortunate, but they caused us to come together and become more of a close-knit group, so that was one blessing. We’re just going to keep growing every single day and then go from there.”

The team continued to play well even after Chris Paul went down with a shoulder injury on Jan. 3. Crawford believes the injuries to key players like Paul and J.J. Redick will help the Clippers in the long run since other players had to step up and it forced the Clippers to battle through adversity under head coach Doc Rivers.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise because, while you never want to lose anyone to injury especially someone of Chris’ magnitude or J.J. earlier in the season, those guys got a chance to watch us grow,” Crawford said. “We had no choice but to grow without them. Doc said he’s lost guys like that before, losing [Paul] Pierce for games here and there and losing KG [Kevin Garnett] here and there, but he said, ‘We’re going to be a no excuse team.’ No matter who’s out there, those are the guys who we’re going to go to war with. We tried to do that and hold down the fort. Blake was more of a vocal leader and was able to grow. And Chris, watching from afar, was able to see the growth of some of us and how we can help him so he doesn’t have to make every single play. He is the best point guard in the league, but still, if we can lighten the load off of him a little bit and everybody steps up a little bit more, I think our team will be better because of it.”

Crawford has been extremely impressed with Coach Rivers and his staff, and he credits them for his success this year.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Crawford said of Rivers. “Watching him all of those years in Boston and even back in Orlando, I knew he was good, but you don’t know how good he is until you’re around him every single day. That’s what we’re experiencing with him now and he’s unbelievable. … I worked really hard over the summer to improve, but I think a lot of it is that Doc has put me and my teammates in positions to be successful. I think I’m a much better player thanks to him and his staff, and a more well-rounded player as far as rebounding, defending, making plays and scoring; I think I’m the best player that I’ve ever been and there’s a direct correlation between that and the arrival of Doc and his staff.”

The development of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan has also been a huge factor in the Clippers’ success this season. Crawford has been blown away with how much they have improved.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Crawford said of Griffin’s development. “If you just watch Blake from a distance, I guess you may say it’s just all about dunks and highlights, but people don’t see how he understands all of the intricacies of the game, the subtle passes, the screens, the charges he takes, the 15-foot jump shots, the 17-foot jump shots, everything he does for our team. It’s just been unbelievable. He’s such a hard worker, and to see how good he’s gotten in such a short amount of time, it’s been fun to watch and be a part of. The second Chris went down, we kind of looked at each other like, ‘Okay, we’re going to have to carry the load.’ Everybody else has definitely stepped up and played their part. We win as a team and lose as a team. But Blake, DeAndre [Jordan] and I definitely felt that we had to take on more of a leadership role.”

Without missing a beat, Crawford proceeded to praise Jordan’s development as well.

“He should have been an All-Star this year, there’s no question about it,” Crawford said of Jordan. “He should have been an All-Star. He gets 15 to 20 rebounds on any given night. He’s always covering our backs on defense. He does so much for this team. I told him yesterday, every time he even rolls hard, he opens up the floor for our shooters. He spaces the court so well because everybody is scared of how he rolls because they’re thinking about the possibility of getting dunked on. He’s been an All-Star-level player this year and hopefully he’ll win Most Improved Player or be right there at the end.”

Crawford and the Clippers have been impressive this season and they have as good a shot as any team to come out of the loaded Western Conference.

Van Gundy Doesn’t Believe Hayward is a Max Player

Former Orlando Magic head coach and NBA analyst Stan Van Gundy doesn’t believe that Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is a max-contract player. He made that clear in a recent interview with 1280 AM in Utah.

“There are a lot of people out there that seemed to think this guy was going to go for near max money,” Van Gundy said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “I don’t see that, myself. I think he’s a very good player, very athletic, can do a lot of things. But I think the way the game is going, a perimeter guy who is not a good shooter, not a real good shooter, I think that limits his value in today’s game.”

Van Gundy said that he believes he’s worth “a little bit above the mid-level exception,” or about $6.5 million to $7 million.

“But from what I’ve heard, he’s going to get a lot more than that interest-wise,” he added.

For what it’s worth, Hayward says he isn’t thinking about the contract since it’s out of his control. He’s just focused on playing the best basketball that he can.

“I don’t really think about it directly, about the contract,” Hayward said. “I think about going out there and trying to prove my value in the league.”

“We’re trying to get better as individuals, as a team,” he added. “For a lot of us, it’s a contract year. Guys are not only playing for us, but because it’s a business, they’re playing for everybody else.”

This season, Hayward is averaging 16 points, five rebounds and five assists a game while shooting 40 percent from the floor.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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