Jamal Crawford is again playing like the exciting, high-scoring guard that helped the Atlanta Hawks into the playoffs in two consecutive seasons while winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. The Portland Trail Blazers signed Crawford thinking he would bring the same type of productivity to their young, talented team. Injuries, a shortened season and misuse by the coaching staff, however, quickly stripped Crawford of his ability to contribute.
The season was a failure for the team and Crawford.
Crawford often looked like a shell of himself. His explosive scoring ability was only displayed occasionally. His dazzling ball-handling skills were often replaced with more conservative moves. His shooting touch and ability to get hot just disappeared. He simply wasn't playing like the Jamal Crawford that, for many years, drove opposing coaches crazy.
While many believed his performance was a result of wear and tear, age and loss of desire, Crawford knew he was still an elite talent that could contribute more to a team, provided that team allowed him to play his game.
He found that team in Los Angeles.
The Clippers are young, talented and on the verge of competing for a title. But they needed a guy that could provide them instant firepower without disrupting their talented core. At the time, Crawford was looking for a winning team that would let him contribute without striping him of his ability. It was a perfect marriage and both sides are benefiting.
The Clippers are playing well and look like a team that will have a good chance of making a deep playoff run. Crawford is lighting it up, looking like the player that scored 50 points with three different teams. But those things at this point are a bonus; after last season he's just happy to be in a better situation.
"The Change of scenery has helped me tremendously," Crawford said. "Being with so many talented players and a coaching staff who believes in me has made a world of difference.
"My mindset is like it was back in the Atlanta days; I'm just on a mission. I'm back to being me and playing on the best team I've ever been on."
Having an opportunity to play playoff basketball was big for Crawford. He played his first 10 seasons before making the playoffs. The experience and his effectiveness during his time in Atlanta change the way he looked at things; winning became a deal breaker. When he signed with the Blazers in the 11-12 season, he thought the team had a great chance at winning. But his time with the Blazers reinforced his desire to win which made the decision to join the Clippers a no-brainer.
"The Clippers were attractive to me because they had so many good pieces in place and they were serious about winning," Crawford said. "Chris (Paul), Chauncey (Billups), Deandre (Jordan), Blake (Griffin) and Vinny (Del Negro) were the first people to call me and let me know how I would fit in with the team.
"Knowing exactly what would be expected of me was one of the first conversations that was had on both sides. I've always been a fan of Vinny and playing with the type of talent on this team is special. They just want me to be me."
Being himself has been good enough to lead the Clippers in scoring, the only reserve with that distinction. He's among the league's leaders in fourth-quarter scoring and has helped his team jump out to a great start.
Individually, Crawford is the early favorite to reclaim the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year and he's even expected to be in the All-Star conversation. Winning, however, is still the priority for Crawford. He's open to the possibilities of the other honors, but understand that winning as a team is the best route to individual accolades.
"Honestly, when the season started I had no individual goals other than playing in late June," Crawford said. "But along the way when you win and play well people start talking about sixth man and All-Star. Those would be really cool because it means I'm playing pretty well for a winning team. But winning a championship comes before anything else."
The title is a real possibility for Crawford and the Clippers. They're a confident bunch that has everything needed to compete for a championship. For the first time in his career, Crawford is playing for a team with unlimited opportunities and he's loving it.
"We can be as good as we want to be," he said. "There will always be bumps in the road, but at the end of the day the sky is the limit for us."