Los Angeles Clippers: Ray Allen

Crawford finds happiness with Clippers

November, 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES – Jamal Crawford wanted to be honest with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Although his agent wanted him to take his time, play the field and not make any hasty commitments as a free agent, Crawford knew exactly where he wanted to be, and the Clippers knew exactly where he should be.

“When I came here, I don’t know if I should say this or not, but they told me I was their first option at lunch,” Crawford said. “And I told them at the same lunch that they were my first option. My agent didn’t want me to say that but I was just being honest and we made it happen.”

Because they made it happen in the form of a four-year, $25 million deal in July, Crawford has made it happen for the Clippers in the form of his team-leading 20.3 points per game.

On a team headlined by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, it is Crawford who has scored a team-high 142 points off the bench. It is the highest bench scoring total in the NBA this season, and the most points off the bench in the first seven games of a season since 2007-08, when Jason Terry had 156.

Crawford, 32, said he is having more fun this season than he has had playing basketball since he was in high school, and it shows.

“I’m just comfortable,” Crawford said. “I’ve never felt this comfortable. Knowing I worked at my game and knowing my teammates and coaches have confidence in me, we feel like we can do anything, honestly. I feel like out there, there’s nothing that can’t be done when you have that confidence from your teammates and your coaching staff. It makes you go enjoy it and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Many thought the Clippers would go after Ray Allen in the offseason (and they did, fairly aggressively recruiting him over the phone) but they switched gears after they met with Crawford. In fact, the day before Allen was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles to meet with Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks, the Clippers canceled the visit. They had already found their guy.

“We talked to Ray. I played with Ray and know Ray well,” Del Negro said. “He’s a great player and a first-ballot Hall of Fame guy but we love having Jamal. We’re happy he’s with us.”

Del Negro and Sacks weren’t the only members of the who came after Crawford hard before and after his visit. He got phone calls from Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chauncey Billups. They all wanted to let him know how much he was wanted and really needed for the Clippers to take the next step in their development as a championship contender.

“They told me how I fit in and I saw where their team was and where they could possibly go and I just wanted to be a part of it,” Crawford said. “It made perfect sense.”

Not even the Clippers, however, could have expected Crawford to play as well as he has. Crawford is the only primary bench player leading his team in scoring this season, and his scoring average is the third-highest among players who switched teams during the offseason, behind James Harden and O.J. Mayo, but ahead of Dwight Howard and Kevin Martin.

Crawford has made his biggest mark in helping the Clippers take and extend leads when he gets on the court. In the past three games against the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and Atlanta Hawks, Crawford has gone into a tight game and helped push the Clippers to leads of 20 or more points each time. In fact, the Clippers have outscored their opponents by 63 points when Crawford has been on the court. That is the fifth-highest plus-minus among all players in the NBA this season.

“I think there’s a moment of truth in every game, honestly,” Crawford said. “There’s a point in the game where it can go either way and the last three games it has gone our way. We clamped down. It always starts with the defense. We were able to get steals and get easy baskets and that picks everyone’s energy up and gets us going.”

Crawford hasn’t just helped the Clippers gain leads; he has helped close games as well. He leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging an NBA-high 9.3 points. Crawford also has been efficient from the field, shooting a career-high 50 percent. Entering this season, he’s never shot higher than 47.6 percent from the field for a single season.

Looking at the players on the court after practice Tuesday, Crawford smiles when he is asked why he has been so successful this season.

"Now you can't just key in on me," Crawford said. "You have the best point guard in the world right there and another superstar in Blake, DeAndre, who hopefully gets Most Improved [Player of the Year award]. I can go down the list of our team. I usually see a lot of double teams or traps, or whatever but they can't do that because there are other guys to worry about. I'm the fifth, sixth option. Whatever, I don't care. I just go out there and have fun."

The way Crawford has been playing this season, chances are he won’t be under the radar for long.

“Shhhh,” he said. “Don't tell nobody.”

Chauncey Billups' loss still felt

March, 3, 2012
Chauncey Billups’ jersey still hangs in the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room. It is put up before every home game and road game as if Billups will still suit up and be in the starting lineup.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, Billups isn’t walking through their locker room door anytime soon.

Billups was lost for the season last month with a torn left Achilles tendon and his impact on this young team is beginning to be felt more and more with every late game loss the Clippers suffer.

There are a myriad of reasons why the Clippers lost to the Phoenix Suns 81-78 Friday night, their fourth loss in their last six games.

Maybe it was because it was the Clippers' second game of a back-to-back on the road, maybe it was because the Clippers’ starters could never find their shot or maybe it was because the Suns, one of the league’s worst rebounding teams, out rebounded the Clippers, one of the league’s best on the boards.

Whatever the reasons may be the loss was yet another example of how much the Clippers miss Billups’ leadership, calming presence and experience down the stretch in close games.

The Clippers are now 6-6 without Billups after starting the season 15-7 with him in the starting lineup.

Billups’ impact on this team went far beyond the 14.9 points and 4.0 assists he was averaging. If we just look at the numbers, Randy Foye, who is now starting in place of Billups, has done an admirable job. He is averaging 8.7 points and 2.4 assists this season although he scored just 2 points on 1-of-8 shooting against the Suns.

Billups created opportunities for his teammates, drew fouls and put opponents in the penalty early and was the best free throw shooter on a team without many good players from the charity stripe. No one has felt his loss more than Caron Butler, who no longer gets the same open looks on the weakside he did when Billups was penetrating the gaps and causing defenses to respect him. That’s simply something Foye does not provide.

So not only have the Clippers lost Billups, but Butler is no longer the player he once was with Billups in the lineup. Butler was 4-of-13 for 9 points and 8 rebounds Thursday night. Coming into this six-game road trip he had shot only 31.5% from the field (12-of-38) in his last four games and had only made 1-of-14 from beyond the arc.

Perhaps the biggest area where Billups’ loss is felt is in the fourth quarter during close games. Those were situations where the Clippers found a way to win with Billups on the court. They had snapped long franchise losing streaks against the Nuggets, Jazz and Magic on the road and had beaten the likes of the Thunder, Heat, Lakers and Mavericks at home with Billups on the floor.

Without Billups, the Clippers have blown close games late in four of their last six losses to the Spurs, Warriors, Timberwolves and Suns. The Spurs loss was the most heartbreaking but it was also the only one of the four against a team that will likely make the playoffs.

There’s nothing the Clippers can do with their current roster to fill the void left by Billups, who plans to return to Los Angeles later this month to continue his rehab and be around the team. They were unable to sign J.R. Smith as a free agent last month and instead signed veteran Bobby Simmons, who scored his first points in the NBA since 2009 on Thursday. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro will not move Mo Williams, who is averaging 13.5 points and 3.4 assists, to the starting lineup since that would leave them with no consistent production off the bench.

Maybe 12 games isn’t the greatest sample size but after a .500 record without Billups and a recent inability to close out games late, it might be time for the Clippers general manager Neil Olshey to seriously pursue a deal for a player that will make the Clippers a more serious contender down the stretch and into the postseason.

Players like the Boston Celtics’ Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, who have been rumored as possible Clippers targets, may not be young and will cost the team assets they would rather keep but the Clippers are not in a position to think long-term with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin essentially giving the Clippers two years to prove they are a championship team before they can jump ship.

The Clippers looked like a championship team at the beginning of the season when Billups was hitting big shots and providing some championship experience on the floor. Now that he is gone, and seeing how the team has done in his absence it may be time for the Clippers to find a similar player before the trade deadline if they want to be playing well into the summer this year.