Thursday, December 27, 2007

Matchmaker: Crawford to the Blazers

If you've read this blog much, you know I'm always in search of a good gimmick. That is because having one just makes it easier to come up with a post that isn't a babbling brook of nonsense. Defining the scope of a blog post is probably the single most important thing one can do in a landscape which includes more sports bloggers than Yao Ming jerseys (okay, that's impossible, but you get the idea). So even though I typically despise gimmicks in everyday life, they can be invaluable on this space. My first attempt - "good and bad" - was lame and lasted one day. This is my second try at coming up with an ongoing gimmick post. We'll see how it works out.

Anyway, the concept is that I play matchmaker and come up with workable pairings between players and teams in the NBA. The intended value of the premise is that I'm looking for odd pairings that you wouldn't immediately expect but that might actually help both teams. I'm not going to give you "Jose Calderon to the Cavs" because A) that is too obvious, B) the Raptors would never trade Calderon, especially now that Ford is in danger of never playing again. And you won't see things like "David Lee to the Suns" either, because even though Isiah is crazy, he's not quite crazy enough to trade his most valuable player. Well maybe he is, but the point I'm making is that we're looking to dig a little deeper here with these pairings.

This is probably pretty evident with my first choice, which is Jamal Crawford to the Portland Trail Blazers. I'm sure that most of my fellow Blazer fans are vomiting in their mouths right now at the thought of Crawford coming into a blossoming mix that is currently riding an 11-game winning streak, but that is only because they are basing their opinions on what I believe is an unfair reputation. Crawford is seen as a selfish guy that can't contribute to a winning team. A look at his track record confirms that he has indeed spent his career playing on losing teams and hoisting more than his share of shots. However, that doesn't mean that those things are entirely his fault, that he couldn't make changes, or that there is no value in what he brings to the table.

For starters, the one glaring hole on this Blazers roster (other than Oden, which isn't happening until next year and experience, which isn't happening until all these guys grow up together) is that they lack a perimeter bench scorer that can create his own shots. Jarrett Jack is the closest thing they have to such a player, but he's pretty limited as an offensive weapon - his Christmas night outburst against Seattle notwithstanding. It was during that very game that my Dad - who is rarely wrong about such things - noted that Portland really needed a "microwave" off the bench. I agree with him, which is why I was pushing so hard for a Blazers-Bulls trade in the offseason that would have sent Zach Randolph to Chicago for Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni (ironically, the Bulls probably never considered the deal, despite their desperate need for a lowpost scorer, because they feared that Zebo would be incompatible with Scott Skiles ... now, 25 games later, Skiles is gone and Randolph is being wasted alongside Eddy Curry in New York).

While Gordon might still be an option, especially in light of his recent struggles, I doubt Portland is interested in trading for a bench player that just turned down a $50 million extension and is about to become a free agent. Now, Crawford has far from an ideal contract, but it isn't as bad you might expect, what with him being a member of the Knicks and all. In fact, at under $8 million a year, his deal isn't really that terrible. The biggest problem is that he has four years left on it, so if this gamble doesn't pay off, Portland is stuck with him for a while.

That said, there is something that is actually quite helpful about the fact that Crawford makes close to $8 million a year and this is the part that is going to please Blazers fans ... he makes nearly as much as Darius Miles.

Yes, the same Darius Miles that has been seen running and riding the bike and generally getting ready for a comeback. The same Darius Miles that makes Blazers fans loose their breath at the mere mention of his name. Most Portland diehards that I know believe deep down that Miles is singlehandedly going to find a way to ruin all the progress that the franchise has made and I believe they would give just about anything to see him shipped out of town. Now that it doesn't look like Miles will be retiring and coming off the salary cap anytime soon, Portland has to either get rid of him, keep him on ice (at a salary hit of $8.3 million per for the next three seasons), or play him and risk disrupting their truly wonderful chemistry. Obviously, the move is to trade him. But honestly, who would take him?

Clearly, the answer to that question is Isiah Thomas. He's been rumored to have had interest in Miles in the past and his track record for terrible trades speaks for itself, so he's obviously the guy to target. The trick is in getting Thomas to swallow the poison pill that is Miles by making him think he's pulling off a great deal elsewhere. This is like Peter Berg hiding a Middle East message movie in a popcorn thriller like The Kingdom or Jessica Seinfeld churning out a cookbook full of ways to slip vegetables into children's foods like mac and cheese. Same thing. And yes, I'm comparing Isiah Thomas' GM skills to the movie tastes of the American public and the discerning qualities of little kids.

So here's the trade:

Portland sends Jarrett Jack and his sensible contract ($1.2 million per with two years remaining) and Darius Miles and his horrible contract to New York in exchange for Jamal Crawford and his semi-horrible contract.

Automatically, the Knicks win because they finally have a real point guard that will play defense and listen to the coach. (The Miles gambit doesn't even factor in because their cap situation remains unchanged for once, their chemistry is already shot to hell, and they might as well bring him in and hope for the best. After all, they are currently starting Jared Jeffries at small forward.)

And automatically, the Blazers win big because they've eliminated the D Miles Threat and taken the fans down to Defcom 2 on the "What if we go back to the Whitsitt Era?" Meter.

But I think that Portland wins in more ways than one, because I think Crawford could be a really, really good fit on this team.

For starters, even though he's always been on a losing team, I've seen him take and make quite a few big game-winning shots during his career, so he has some level of experience. Additionally, he's got the ability to create shots for himself pretty much anywhere on the court, which, as I described above, is exactly what Portland needs off the bench. Roy can't consistently go 40 minutes a night on those knees and as much as I love James Jones and Travis Outlaw off the bench, the former needs others to make plays for him and the latter is simply not a penetrating guard. Crawford has the ball-handling skills, shot-making ability, and complete lack of conscience necessary to be a "microwave" for this team. Nate can play him 20-25 minutes a night and see what he's got cooking. If Crawford is bricking everything in sight and stifling ball movement, then he gets the Martell Webster treatment (no PT for the final 12-18 minutes). But on those nights when he's just killing people and can't be guarded, he gives Portland another weapon and a key piece of the bench.

Not only that, but while getting rid of Jack is admittedly a bummer, especially on the defensive end, it starts to alleviate the point guard logjam that exists in Portland. They have Steve Blake starting and Jack coming off the pine, which means that Sergio Rodriguez isn't getting enough time (which he needs if he's to be the Portland version of Tony Parker someday) and Taurean Green (who is the Hoff family wild card choice to be Portland's future franchise point guard) is stuck in the minors. Plus, because he's got the severe eyebrows, Jack always looks angry (see: the episode of Seinfeld when Elaine paints eyebrows on Uncle Leo at the doctor's office ... "demeanor?"). I don't think that angry look can be good for the locker room.

So anyway, there you have it. A trade that gets Miles out of Portland, gives the Knicks a real point guard, and possibly solves the Blazers' microwave shortage off the bench. It is an admitted gamble because of Crawford's salary and propensity to hog the ball, but I'd rather have him and his reasonably good attitude (he seems fairly coachable and perhaps could stand to benefit from having a supportive and knowledgeable coach for once - remember, this guy has played for Bill Cartwright, Scott Skiles, Larry Brown, and Isiah Thomas) for four years than Darius Miles for three. And the Jarrett Jack Sacrifice is inevitable, so they might as well play that card now.

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