Jamal Crawford discusses Clippers' title hopes, trade rumors, health, Isaiah Thomas' success and more

Jamal Crawford discusses Clippers' title hopes, trade rumors, health, Isaiah Thomas' success and more

Interview

Jamal Crawford discusses Clippers' title hopes, trade rumors, health, Isaiah Thomas' success and more

Certain things are guaranteed in this world: Death, taxes and Jamal Crawford averaging double-figures off an NBA bench.

Last season, the 36-year-old became the first player in NBA history to win the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award three different times and he continues to provide instant offense off of the Los Angeles Clippers’ bench in his 17th NBA season.

This year, Crawford is averaging 12.2 points in 26.3 minutes while shooting 40.7 percent from the field, 35 percent from three-point range and 84.9 percent from the free-throw line. The Clippers have strengthened their second unit – putting veterans like Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson and Brandon Bass alongside Crawford. As a result, he’s being asked do less than in previous years. But he and his fellow reserves are doing their job, with the Clippers ranking sixth-best in the NBA in bench scoring (39 points per game).

The Clippers are currently 40-28, putting them in the Western Conference’s fifth seed. However, injuries have limited the squad throughout this season and a case can be made that they’re better than their record indicates. L.A. is one of those teams that, if healthy, could make a deep run come playoff time.

HoopsHype recently sat down with Crawford to discuss this season, the Clippers’ championship aspirations, how he reacted to hearing his name in trade rumors, the success of his close friend Isaiah Thomas and much more.

Around this time each season, I feel like I check in with you for what’s essentially a ‘State-of-the-Clippers’ article. How are you feeling about the team’s play right now, and what has this season been like in comparison to recent years?

Jamal Crawford: I think it’s been a little bit different, from a few standpoints. We’re a deeper team so, for me especially, it’s been kind of different. Instead of just me attacking teams off of the bench, we’re attacking more as a group. Austin can have big nights. Mo can have big nights. Raymond can have big nights. Wesley and B-Bass help a lot and can get going. Then, there’s myself. That’s been our second unit, for the most part. We can have anyone go off at any given time, more so than just me being ‘the guy’ off the bench. Attacking more as a group has been an adjustment, but it’s been good. And then we’ve obviously dealt with injuries at different times to Blake [Griffin] and Chris [Paul], but now we have everyone back. With that, we’re working out the kinks. Even though we have the same core [as past years], there’s still an adjustment when you haven’t been playing with the same guys all the time and they come back. Now that we’re healthy, I think we have a good chance to get into a nice rhythm. We can build some good momentum and flow as we close out the regular season and enter the playoffs.

Continuity is very underrated in the NBA and, in the past, we’ve discussed its importance. With this group, you’ve played with largely the same guys year after year. How much easier does that make things, and do you view the team’s continuity as an advantage?

JC: I think our continuity is definitely an advantage. We’re obviously familiar with each other, we know what to expect from each other, and that’s always a plus. The other part of that is, after a while, other people start to look at you and ask, ‘Is it getting stale? Has this group run its course?’ You hear those type of things. That’s the disadvantage to being together for a while.

With Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and JJ Redick among others unrestricted free agents this summer, some people have suggested this could be the current group’s final run. Is there a heightened sense of urgency and how do you deal with that kind of talk?

JC: There’s definitely an urgency – not only because of the free-agent stuff and all of that, but just in general. Like, we can’t keep letting time slip away. It’s about trying to get this right and getting further than we’ve ever gotten before. We understand that it’s going to be a process and we understand that it takes time, but we have to do it. We feel like the time is now for us.

This year, when talking about contenders, Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland are the teams that are constantly brought up. You guys don’t get mentioned much and, as you said, there has been that criticism that this group is stale and can’t win it all. Do you feel your team is being underrated, and does this group have enough to win a championship?

JC: I feel like we can. Obviously, we have a lot to prove to get there. We have a lot to work on, a lot of work to do. But when we’re right, I like our chances against anybody. I sound like a broken record because I know I’ve said this before, but that’s truly what I believe and I’m sticking to that.

I’ve always felt that Chris is one of the biggest competitors in the NBA. I love his passion. How motivated and hungry is he at this point? And does he draw extra motivation from the doubters who criticize his postseason results?

JC: Chris is motivated, obviously, and I’m not even sure if the doubters [have anything to do with it]. I just know he’s motivated when it comes to anything. Chris is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. It’s not just with basketball either. If we’re playing any game, he’s going to try to win. He has that competitive desire [that pushes] our team. We have guys who are driven. And for him, each year that goes by is a year that tugs at him a little bit more. The same can be said for Blake and for DJ and for all of our guys who have been together for a while. We have guys who are really, really motivated and our competitive fire is burning.

One thing about having the same core is that you’ve witnessed your teammates’ improvement up close over time. DeAndre Jordan made his first All-Star team this year. Blake seems to improve every single season. How much better are DeAndre and Blake now versus when you first joined the Clippers five years ago?

JC: Oh man, it’s like night and day. And that goes for both of them. They just get better and better each and every year. They know their importance to our team. They know that as good as our [supporting cast] is, the team will only be as good as our leaders so they’ve taken on a lot of responsibilities and have gotten better each year. There hasn’t been a single year where either of them regressed. For us, that’s a big positive. They both understand how important they are. They both understand that the time is now. They’re very mature for their ages too and they understand that a lot comes with being ‘the guys’ – along with Chris – for our team. They understand all of that and we just follow their lead.

Prior to the trade deadline, your name was mentioned a bit in different rumors. How did you approach the trade deadline and what was it like to go through it this year?

JC: It was a little bit frustrating. You hate to hear it, and this time was a little bit different since I had just re-signed [with the Clippers on a three-year contract] this past summer. So it caught me off guard a bit, but you roll with the punches and just control what you can control at that point. It’s always a relief when the deadline has passed because it’s done with and there’s no more speculation. It is what it is. For me, I’m just glad it’s over with and we’re just moving forward.

How happy are you to still be with the Clippers?

JC: Well, I’m very comfortable here. I’ve been in L.A. for five years and I’ve always said that breaking through with this group and winning would mean everything to me. Even more so than anything personal, I think about that [as the biggest reason I want to be here]. With all of the heartaches we’ve had, to actually be able bust through that door and win with the same group of guys that we had the heartache with, it would mean everything.

There are a lot of players around the NBA – many of whom are fellow Seattle natives – who you’ve mentored since they were really young. A lot of the guys who you’ve known since their high school days are coming into their own and doing well. How proud are you to see guys like Isaiah Thomas, Zach LaVine, Dejounte Murray and others experiencing success?

JC: I’m very proud. Very proud. I knew it was possible for all of those guys. Even some guys who aren’t in the NBA anymore or are doing well overseas, I have the same love for them too. I always felt like it was my duty to take these guys under my wing, especially once I saw the work that they were all willing to put in and how much they loved the game. I know exactly what drives them and I’m just so happy for them. It’s great that the whole world is catching on to these guys that you and I have talked about for years.

Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are being mentioned as the top MVP candidates this year. Do you think Isaiah Thomas should be mentioned a bit more in that conversation?

JC: He almost has to be mentioned. He’s leading one of the best teams in the East and the league as a whole, and everyone is taking notice of what he’s doing personally. But, knowing Isaiah, if he’s not [in the MVP discussion], that would just drive him even more. He always finds a way to stay motivated, stay hungry and find something to become a chip on his shoulder. That’s what guys like him, great players, do. He’s always going to find a way to succeed and [stay motivated]. He should be in the conversation, but if he’s not, that’s just something else he’ll use to add fuel to his fire.

Every year, you tell me that you believe you’ll play five more years. I’m not going to ask that again.

JC: You know the answer already!

Instead, I’ll ask this: Physically, how are you holding up and how do you feel in your 17th NBA season? What do you feel like every day when you wake up?

JC: I feel great. And, knock on wood, I haven’t missed any games. This would be my first season playing in all 82 games. I feel great. I just play and stay locked in. We obviously have a great training staff, a great strength-and-conditioning program, great nutritionists and Doc [Rivers] does a great job of managing our practices and minutes. It’s a team effort. My wife is always making sure that I’m drinking a lot of water and eating salads and fruit. Everybody plays a part in it, and I feel great.

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