Wizards forced to settle for scraps in Jordan Crawford trade

February 22, 2013

I’m out. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Jordan Crawford looked around at the feet of his teammates before the Wizards took on the Atlanta Hawks in November and shook his head because they were all wearing black socks for the first time in an effort to turnaround a season that had already gone awry with nine consecutive losses. The switch in socks would’ve forced Crawford to wear borrowed Nike shoes since he had only packed a pair of white Jordan Brand sneakers.

“These don’t look good on the Sizzle,” Crawford said, as his teammates laughed.

Crawford eventually convinced his teammates to go back to wearing white socks so that he could wear his preferred shoe choice. The Wizards went on to lose in overtime that night, but the pregame incident was evident of two things: One, Crawford was well-liked by his teammates for his unique, sometimes playful personality. And two, he didn’t often just go with the flow, choosing instead to take his own separate path.

Nearly three months later, the Wizards decided that Crawford no longer fit with their plans,  trading the third-year shooting guard to the Boston Celtics for an injured reserve guard who will never play for them and a veteran big man who might not play much. Was that all the Wizards could get for a player who led the team in scoring 17 times, posted 12 20-point games and was arguably the best one-on-one scorer on the team?

The simple answer is yes.

“We talked to a lot of different teams, we tried a lot of different things and at the end of the day, this was the best option presented to us,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said during a news conference to announce the trade that sent Crawford to his third team in three years.

Crawford didn’t help his trade value in recent weeks by refusing to accept a diminished role after John Wall returned from injury. He slumped, sulked and eventually fell completely out of Coach Randy Wittman’s rotation. After a loss in Memphis, where he buried a stunning, 27-foot three-pointer over Tony Allen with plenty of time on the clock, Crawford explained, “Got to get my shots when I can.”

During his time in Washington, Crawford provided some “steez,” some entertainment, some memorable quotes – from “I think I can be better than Michael Jordan” to “Who else is gonna shoot it?” – and some stellar performances. He scored a career-high 39 points against Miami, recorded two triple-doubles, and was a relentless, feisty competitor.

The Wizards wouldn’t have been able to hang around in so many games early this season without his contributions, but they started to experience more success with him sidelined or playing limited minutes over the past 20 games. With Wall back in the lineup, the team has taken on a different mentality and approach to winning games.

Who else gon' do this? .(AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Who else gon’ do this? .(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

“Our team has started to come together,” Grunfeld said. “Our chemistry has been real good. Our defensive intensity has improved and we’re one of the best defensive teams in the league during that stretch. We’re moving the basketball on the offensive end and we’re hoping that we can continue on that.”

The Wizards (15-37) could’ve decided to showcase Crawford rather than sit him in his last four games, but the team was thriving in his absence and cost himself the chance for more minutes with his more-questionable-than-normal shot selection. He earned his benching and forced the Wizards’ hand when he spent his final game in a Wizards uniform making a scene with his exaggerated lean and angrily throwing his jersey into the stands afterward.

Wittman acted as if he didn’t recognize Crawford’s bizarre behavior during the Wizards’ 96-88 loss to Toronto on Tuesday. The rest of the league was certainly watching, and taking note; not only of how Crawford handled his demotion, but also how the Wizards had little success when the team was placed in his hands.

Of course, Crawford didn’t have much help during the stretch earlier in the season when he played point guard, with several players out with injury and Nene still working himself back into shape. But two league executives predicted that the Wizards wouldn’t get much in return for Crawford.

Reputations are hard to shake in the NBA and Crawford is already seen as a one-dimensional player who is allergic to defense. The Wizards had to trade Crawford to Boston because it was the only team willing to make a trade, according to a league source with knowledge of the team’s plans.

The Celtics have seen their back court decimated in recent weeks with Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa both going down with torn ACLs in the past month. Washington took back Barbosa and had to accept Jason Collins, as well, after former Maryland star Chris Wilcox refused to waive his Bird rights in order to accept the trade.

The Wizards tried to get at least a draft pick for Crawford – first round or second round – but had to settle for whatever they could get, and that was savings in the form of the $2.2 million that they won’t have to pay him next season.

“Moving forward, this gives us flexibility in the future,” Grunfeld said. “Gives us another roster spot. Saves us some money next year, to be able to get some other players we’re looking at, and maybe build on what we’re trying to build…We have a very positive culture and we’re going to continue build on that, with good character guys and the culture is a good, workmanlike culture with good people that are going to support one another and play the game the right way and we want our players to get accustomed to that and the way we want to operate.”

The Wizards have made several trades in recent years in which the objective was simply to get rid of somebody instead getting somebody. They swapped Gilbert Arenas’s horrible contract for Rashard Lewis’s less horrible contract, then dumped Lewis. They got Nene for JaVale McGee but could only get Brian Cook and a second-round pick for Nick Young.

Crawford will be in a situation that might work better for him, since there will be an obvious hierarchy with two future Hall of Famers on the roster in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He will be surrounded by veterans, seeking to make a playoff run, and the focus will be about winning over individual numbers. It will be up to Crawford to buy in and blend in in Boston.

Given the chance in Washington, Crawford – a notorious gunner – decided to pass.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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