Jamal Crawford on free agency and why he joined the Wolves over the Cavaliers, Wizards and Lakers

Jamal Crawford on free agency and why he joined the Wolves over the Cavaliers, Wizards and Lakers

Podcast

Jamal Crawford on free agency and why he joined the Wolves over the Cavaliers, Wizards and Lakers

On the latest episode of The HoopsHype Podcast, Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Jamal Crawford stopped by to discuss a wide range of topics.

The three-time Sixth Man of the Year gave a behind-the-scenes description of his free agency experience, explained why he signed with the Timberwolves over other suitors such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers, shared how being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers blindsided him after he re-signed with the organization last summer, laid out his expectations for the Wolves going forward, weighed in on Kyrie Irving‘s surprising trade demand and much more. Toward the end of the episode, he also answered plenty of questions that were submitted by our listeners via Twitter.

You can listen to the full episode above. Below is a transcript of the conversation, which has been condensed and edited for clarity.

I want to walk through this whole process, which started when you were traded to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the three-team deal that brought Danilo Gallinari to Los Angeles. I know you wanted to stay with the Clippers after you re-signed with them on a three-year deal last summer, so what was it like when you found out you’d been traded and did the move surprise you?

Jamal Crawford: Yeah, absolutely. And if you go back even before my trade, the whole trade involving Chris Paul caught me off guard too. I was digesting everything and realizing, “I’m not going to play with Chris again.” Chris is one the main reasons why I went to the Clippers and I was there five years with the guy; then, all of a sudden, he’s not coming back. And then JJ [Redick] wasn’t coming back either. At that point, I was still a Clipper and just digesting everything. I was thinking, “Man, this year is going to be different.” That was before I knew that I might possibly be traded, I was just thinking things would be really different because Chris and JJ were gone. Then, I went to L.A. for a couple-day span to try to get Blake [Griffin] to re-sign and we successfully pulled that off. Then, two days later, I started hearing rumblings about a trade. It was just so much to digest and it all moved so, so fast. I was shocked because I hadn’t heard anything about me potentially getting traded.

I did feel somewhat blindsided. I mean, we all knew this could potentially happen. We knew that it could be a very different team. Paul [Pierce] was retiring and we had so many free agents, from Blake to Chris to JJ to Luc Mbah a Moute – that was four of our five starters. We knew that things might look different, but we didn’t think it would go to this magnitude and play out the way it did. Four of the top five perimeter players are gone, they’re on different teams. Blake and DJ are still there, along with Wes Johnson and Austin Rivers, but I didn’t predict it playing out like this. But this is a business. That’s life in the NBA. You have to just roll with the punches and make the best out of every situation.

After the Hawks bought you out, we spoke briefly and you asked if there was any way you could go back to the Clippers. A player can’t re-join a team that traded them for one year due to NBA rules, but the fact that you were wondering about that made it clear to me that you really wanted to stay with the organization. Did you want to finish your career with the Clippers?

JC: Yeah, I mean, I spent five years with the Clippers. For me, in my 17-year career, that was the longest I had been in one place. I’ve played more games for the Clippers than I have for any other team in the NBA. So, for me, that was kind of home. When I re-signed there last summer, it was a three-year deal and I thought, “Okay, I can continue to further my career here and I plan on being here for all of those years.” You start to think about really cool things like, “Well, if I’m with this team for eight or nine years and we have a lot of success, maybe my jersey could be hanging up there [retired]?” I mean, like I said, this was my home. You start thinking of all those things and then, all of a sudden, things change in the blink of an eye and you’re dealing with things you didn’t see coming. You’re in shock, you’re angry, you’re upset, you’re hurt.

Also, you’re thinking of how you’ll have to explain this to your family. You’re thinking of all the changes they’ll have to go through, with the kids having to leave their schools and all of the friends they’ve made. All of those things go into it too, it’s not just the basketball part. I can play basketball anywhere; I have the easy part, to be honest. But as your career progresses and your family comes into play, you’re thinking about how this impacts them first and foremost. It was an interesting [situation], but I feel like it worked out the best it could and I know I’m going to a great situation in Minnesota… I’m excited about the opportunity, excited about the team, excited about coach Tom Thibodeau and excited about future in Minnesota. I’m really, really looking forward to the season.

Once Atlanta bought you out, what factors were you considering as you weighed your options and what was that first day like when a bunch of teams started reaching out and showing interest?

JC: It all happened so fast. Last year, I was a free agent and went through the process [normally]. But this wasn’t really a true free agency for me because I didn’t even know I was going to be a free agent. I had to wait for the trade to get completed and then wait for the buyout to get done with Atlanta, and then I sort of had to make a rushed decision. I tried to make the best decision I could under the circumstances and, fortunately, I had some really good options. I really did. And that does make you feel good, when teams of that magnitude reach out and want you to be a part of what they’re doing. I just tried to make the best all-around decision and I think I did that by coming to Minnesota.

Not only did you have decision-makers from teams calling to show interest, there were a number of reports that you were being recruited by several different players. It was reported that LeBron James was recruiting you to join the Cavs. You have a lot of friends around the NBA and you’re constantly talking to other players anyway, but what was it like being recruited by different players?

JC: Well, like you said, most of the guys I talked to are guys I talk to [regularly] anyway. Like, I’ve known LeBron since he was in high school. Same thing with John Wall. Same thing with Isaiah [Thomas]. I have so many relationships and these are guys that I talk to anyway, they just happen to be some of the best basketball players in the world. Sometimes, we’re not even talking about basketball. Those conversations weren’t out of the ordinary. We talk a lot, so it wasn’t like it was a big thing to me or a big thing to them. It was just friends talking and catching up and seeing how the summer would unfold. Really, it was them reaching out as friends and making sure I was in a good situation and going to be in a good spot in the league. That was very thoughtful of them.

You eventually narrowed down your list of teams to the Timberwolves, Cavaliers and Wizards. What stood out about those teams and why were they your finalists?

JC: Well, with Washington, I felt like with them almost going to the Eastern Conference Finals last year – going to Game 7 [against the Celtics] – they’re a team on the rise. People don’t know this, but I was actually really close to signing with them last year before I decided to re-sign with the Clippers.

Then, with Cleveland, they’ve obviously been the best team in the East over the last few years. Obviously having LeBron there, having Kyrie Irving there [makes it attractive]. I’ve known Kyrie for a long time as well. They have all those guys there and they have Ty Lue, who I played for when he was an assistant coach on the Clippers. They also have Larry Drew as an assistant coach and I’ve played for him too. I had a lot of connections there and then just with how good they are, it’s intriguing. I mean, going to the last three NBA Finals speaks for itself.

Then, with Minnesota, it was seeing that they have the young pieces, they have a role for me that I feel I can fit into perfectly and they have Coach Thibs. I’ve always been a fan of Thibs, even going back to his Chicago days. I almost went to play for him [in 2011] before I went to Portland. It really came down to Chicago and Portland and Sacramento at that time; I’ve always been fond of Coach Thibs. I also know some different people in Minnesota. And I just saw how they got really good, really fast. At first, it was like, “Oh, they’re going to be good one day. They have those young pieces in Karl-Anthony Towns and [Andrew] Wiggins.” Well, then here comes Jimmy Butler. Then Taj Gibson signs. Then Jeff Teague signs. And it’s like, “Oh, they’re serious right now.” It became intriguing on a lot of different levels and just made sense to me. If you look at it, I think were 28 games last year where the Wolves went into the fourth quarter with a lead, but they couldn’t close it out. I think with myself and Jimmy and Taj and Teague – along with KAT and Wiggins and [Nemanja] Bjelica and Tyus [Jones] – we’ll find ways to win those games. It’s just a matter of knowing what to run, what to call, who to get the ball to, how to stay calm and execute in those situations. And at the end of the day, like I’ve said before, teams like Cleveland and Golden State already know what it feels like to win, to go through that process [of becoming a title contender]. I wanted to go through that whole process with the Timberwolves.

How tough was it to make that final decision and pick Minnesota? Was it difficult to decide?

JC: It was a tough call, but I knew it was the right call. Once I decided that this was it, I felt really, really good about my decision. It’s funny because I told my agent and sent Thibs a text saying, “Hey, you got No. 11 ready for me?” I’m not sure if he received the text or if he knew what I meant, but I sent that and went to go play in my Pro-Am game. Well, my agent called me and was calling people in the gym saying, “Get Jamal off the court! He has to formally let them know he’s coming!” So I had to run off the court during my Summer League game, call Thibs and then run back to finish the game. It’s funny, I wasn’t playing well before talking to Thibs, but then I had a really good game once I got back from calling him. We ended up winning, which was pretty cool.

One team we haven’t mentioned yet is the Los Angeles Lakers. They were brought up as a possible suitor for you and there seemed to be mutual interest at one point, especially because you and your family were so comfortable in Los Angeles. Was the Lakers stuff overstated, or was there real interest that just fizzled out?

JC: Actually, to be honest, they were one of the first teams to reach out once the buyout and everything was clear. They were really, really interested and I was interested too. I feel like they’re a team that’s on the rise and I think Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson are going to do great things. And, like you said, it made sense with my family already being in L.A. They wouldn’t have to adjust much and they could have the same routine, the same lifestyle, so that was all interesting to me. But after [the early talks], they started looking other places and I started looking at other teams and it kind of fizzled out a bit. They were a team I was really interested in early on, and they showed interest as well, but they wanted to be patient and see how some things played out. And, as you know, things can move really fast and I didn’t feel that I had the time to be able to wait for them.

The big news in the NBA right now is that Kyrie Irving has demanded a trade from Cleveland. You seriously considered joining the Cavaliers and that’s something that obviously would’ve impacted you. Did you hear any rumblings that Irving was upset or wanted out, and did that factor into your decision?

JC: You hear so many things, but it didn’t impact my decision at all. In the world of social media, you hear a lot and there’s so much to digest, but you don’t know what’s real and what’s not until that person actually comes out and says [how they feel]. I didn’t really get into all of that. I just wasn’t sure that I wanted to go there for one year and then be in basically the same situation [next offseason]. And, like I said, they’ve already been there and won a ring. I wanted to go a team that hasn’t been there, so that we can go through all of those firsts together – the first time winning a series, the first time getting your heart broken because you didn’t go all the way… Some of us have experienced those things individually, but our group hasn’t been through that. I wanted to experience success with this group and hopefully be here for the rest of my career.

That’s a different approach from a lot of veterans, who will take less money and limit their role in order to compete for a championship. How do you feel about ring chasing?

JC: Well, to be honest with you, that’s just not how I grew up. When I was in high school, there were some really good teams and I always thought, “Okay, I want to go beat those guys. I want to play against that team.” I don’t fault players for doing that, for chasing a ring, because that’s ultimately what we’re all playing for: a championship. If they feel like that’s the best way to get their championship then so be it. I get that. But personally, I’d rather go about this way and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I don’t fault those guys or judge those guys. Everybody wants a ring. I just want to get one in a way that suits me a little better.

Since the Wolves do have so many young guys who are still developing, are you looking forward to taking on leadership role with this team?

JC: For sure. I led more by example with the Clippers, but that’s because we had Chris Paul and Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill and guys like that while I was there, so the vocal part was covered. When I’d say stuff, guys would definitely listen, but more than anything I just led by example. Now, I use my voice more. I’m not the most talkative guy, but when I get comfortable, I have no problem doing some talking and leading guys in the right direction. I just want the best for my teammates. Here, I think I’ll be leaned on to lead on and off the court.

How good can this Timberwolves team be next season? I’ve seen some people predicting that you guys could be a Top 3 seed in the Western Conference.

JC: I think we can be one of the best teams out there. I really do. We have to prove it, and it’s obviously been a long time since they’ve been in the playoffs. We know that we have a lot of work to do and that this won’t be easy because the West is stacked, as everyone knows. But for us, we’re really embracing the journey. We have the young studs and now you have experienced guys coming in. Jimmy has been so good for a while now, and this is a fresh start for him. This is his first time playing for a new NBA team, so I’m sure he’s going to come out ready to lead and ready to do whatever it takes to win. This is a fresh start for Teague too. Same thing for Taj. It’s a fresh start for me too; I feel motivated and rejuvenated.

Welcome to the Wolves! 🐺 #NewEraNewLook

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What kind of role has Tom Thibodeau described for you?

JC: He wants me to score, he wants me to make plays, he wants me to lead, he wants me to defend and he wants me to help him win games. That’s all Thibs is about – winning. He’s always watching film and always finding new ways to get better. He’s a real basketball junkie, and that’s refreshing. With Thibs, people say he’s a tough coach and yeah, he’s tough, but he’s fair and he wants to see you grow. If you allow yourself to be coached in a way that you haven’t been previously and you allow yourself to be pushed to the limit, you’ll grow. I want to embrace that. I’m not scared of that. I want that, and that’s another one of the major reasons I came to Minnesota. I want to totally get out of my comfort zone and be pushed to the limit.

This is a fun time to be a Timberwolves fan because the team is very attractive right now. They were able to hire Tom Thibodeau, who was one of the best coaches available when they landed him. They are clearly attractive to free agents, with you, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson choosing to sign there. And now Minnesota is reportedly one of the organizations on Kyrie Irving’s short list of teams he’d like to join. I know the Wolves have a passionate fan base, so they must be loving this, especially after losing stars in the past and having some trouble attracting free agents.

JC: I think it’s great. I think now, and in the future, it’ll continue to be a destination that guys want to come to. Like you said, they have a great fan base. When I was there last week, you could just feel the electricity. You can see how excited they are, how hungry they are, to have a really good basketball team. I think it’s a great place to play. Players want to go play with other great players and they want to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. To see [Minnesota] linked to a guy like Kyrie Irving, a player of his stature, is cool. It shows that other people think we’re going to be good. It’s sort of validating; I saw the same thing and that’s why I want to be here.

You mentioned how a change of scenery like this can be rejuvenating. How has this motivated you and what are you focused on improving this offseason?

JC: For me, I’m just getting my attitude back so that every time I come into the game, I’m in attack mode. And that doesn’t mean I’m shooting every time, it just means that I’m [making my presence felt] and making plays. I’m getting that mindset back and I’ve been working on my overall game, from pick-and-rolls to catch-and-shoots to guarding so I can pick up my play on the defensive end. I’m working on everything. I’m really getting back to the basics and I’m just really excited about the season coming up. This season coming up will be one of my best seasons, for sure.

One of our listeners asked: Do you think your willingness to fully embrace a sixth-man role has impacted the next generation of players and made them more willing to come off of the bench? Have you heard that from younger players? And what would it mean to have the Sixth Man of the Year trophy named after you?

JC: Yeah, I have talked to guys who have said that same thing. They said that they didn’t think it was cool to come off of the bench until they saw me, and that’s an honor. That wasn’t what I set out to do and that wasn’t my dream. I was a starter up until I began coming off of the bench in Atlanta. It’s an honor to hear that, though. And if they did name the Sixth Man of the Year trophy after me once I retire, man… That still hasn’t sunk in. When they told me that could potentially happen, I was just at a loss for words. I’m going to keep playing and we’ll see what happens, but that would be an amazing honor for sure.

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