Provided all goes according to plan with the opt-out and re-up of Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors will have the core of their two-time-defending NBA championship-winning team secure before the league’s summertime free agency bonanza gets well and truly nuts. But with five veteran reserves from last year’s team set to hit unrestricted free agency — big men David West, Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and Kevon Looney, as well as swingman Nick Young — the champs will have some roster spots to fill. And with a new KD deal sending the already expensive Dubs even deeper into luxury-tax territory, you’d wager general manager Bob Myers will be looking to fill at least some of them by shopping in the bargain bin, looking for fits on veteran’s minimum salaries.
As Myers and the rest of the Warriors’ braintrust prepares their shopping list, they’re apparently getting input from the guys who played the biggest roles in winning three of the last four titles. The name on their lips? Jamal Crawford, the three-time Sixth Man of the Year, who opted out of the final year of his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this month to enter unrestricted free agency.
Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are all Jamal Crawford supporters
Last year, a vouching from stars Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, and coach Steve Kerr, led to the Warriors taking a flyer on Nick Young. This year, an even stronger push is being made for Jamal Crawford.
Green and Durant are already lobbying. Stephen Curry is on board. Some of the assistant coaches want him, too. It will be enough to get Myers on the phone with Crawford’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, when the free agency period begins at 9 p.m. [Pacific Time, 12 a.m. Eastern] on Saturday.
As you might expect, the 38-year-old guard — who just wrapped up his 18th season in the NBA but has yet to make it past the conference finals — seems like he might also be down for for a return to the Bay Area (he played 54 games with the Warriors during the 2008-09 season) to link up with the sport’s most dominant team. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reports that there’s “some mutual interest between” player and team on a minimum deal that, for a player with 10-plus years of service time, would pay him just under $2.4 million for next season.
The big question: How much is Jamal Crawford looking to make?
Should Crawford decide he’s looking for more than the minimum — remember: he just declined a $4.5 million option — that could make a pairing tough to square. Every dollar teams spend over the tax line carries with it an incremental penalty; the higher your team salary goes, the higher the dollar-for-dollar penalty. If you’re more than $20 million over the tax line, each dollar you spend costs you $3.75 in tax payments. If you’re $25 million over, it’s $4.25. Go $30 million over, it’s $4.75.
As detailed by Anthony Slater of The Athletic, using the taxpayer midlevel exception (estimated at $5.3 million for next season) on a player rather than a minimum-salary slot would cost Warriors ownership an additional $21.6 million in taxes. You’d understand Joe Lacob getting green around the gills at the idea of writing that kind of check for an ostensible eighth man — the core four of Curry, Durant, Green and Klay Thompson, whichever center lands in the starting lineup, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston — who will turn 39 the month before next year’s playoffs.
How Jamal Crawford might fit with the Warriors
Whatever the price point, there are on-court concerns that come with hitching your wagon to Crawford. As fun as he can be to watch with the ball in his hands — and man, can he put on a show — Crawford is an inveterate shot-jacker, standing as one of only a half-dozen reserves last season to average more than 22 field-goal attempts per 100 team possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
While his makes can be thrilling, they’re also not nearly as frequent as you’d like from a player eating up such a large share of the offense. Crawford shot just 41.5 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from the 3-point arc last season; in terms of effective field goal percentage, which accounts for 3-pointers being worth more than buckets inside the arc, Crawford ranked just 92nd among the 106 players who took at least 700 shots last year.
And then, there’s the other side of the ball.
In just over 2,300 minutes with Crawford on the bench, Minnesota limited opponents to 105.2 points per 100 possessions, which would’ve placed just outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency during the regular season. In his 1,653 minutes of work, though, the Wolves allowed opponents to score a whopping 112.9 points-per-100; in other words, when Crawford was on the floor, the average Minny opponent scored like the Warriors or Houston Rockets on a really good night.
That’s not all Crawford’s fault, of course. The Wolves had myriad defensive issues all year, with young expected linchpins Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins deserving blame for the team’s continued defensive woes and a post-All-Star break injury to two-way leader Jimmy Butler surely contributing to the downturn. This is a trend, though: the Clippers fared between 2.8 and 5.7 points-per-100 worse defensively with Crawford on the court in each of his last four seasons in L.A., too.
Crawford has long been viewed as one of the league’s most one-dimensional players, a designated hitter you bring in to get hot in a hurry off the bench, hoping his instant offense as a pick-and-roll penetrator or pull-up shooter can erase deficits or turn small leads into big ones. If he’s bricking 60 percent of his shots, though, the value proposition of a Crawford signing can get kind of dicey, especially for a Warriors team that prizes moving the ball, hunting efficient shots, defensive versatility and the capacity to clamp down.
Even so, the Warriors’ stars are reportedly pushing for Crawford. That’s in part because he’s the sort of universally agreed-upon good guy (and freshly stamped Teammate of the Year winner) who’ll likely fit seamlessly into a veteran locker room, and in part because, as Thompson notes, he “isn’t scared” to let it fly:
He isn’t fazed easily. That trait has been difficult for the Warriors to find. They need reserves who are bold enough to play their game even next to Hall of Famers.
They went after [Nick] Young because he was supposed to have that boldness, more than Ian Clark and [Patrick] McCaw. But it turns out he didn’t. They had to constantly encourage him to play his game, look for his shot.
And Omri Casspi, he was a lost cause. He just wouldn’t shoot.
Crawford has taken nearly 17,000 shots in the regular season and playoffs combined. It’s probably safe to assume he won’t be gun shy.
After finishing off the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kerr and Myers both said they expected next year’s roster to skew younger, in part because adding hungrier players without titles and with something to prove could help inject more energy into a Warriors team that’s played deep into June for four straight years and will need some manufactured jolts to get through the long regular season.
Crawford might be nearing 40, but he’s got one of the most youthful and energetic games in the sport and he’s one of the most tenured and respected ballplayers in the league who hasn’t yet played for a title. Players don’t always make great general managers, but if the Warriors’ stars believe that adding Crawford — as a viable reserve scorer, as a culture-boosting vet, as a title-seeking colleague and a cause worth fighting for — will help ward off monotony and stagnation in pursuit of a three-peat, then Myers will have to strongly consider looking past Crawford’s shortcomings in favor of the potential benefits he might bring beyond his own production.
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