Along the sidelines during Wednesday’s home opener, I couldn’t help notice a man in a dark suit on his feet in the huddle, constantly talking to the players during timeouts, getting in their ears, even gathering them around him as they waited by the scorer’s table for an extra-long TV timeout to end.
It wasn’t a coach. Or a long time teammate.
That animated talker was 18-year vet Jamal Crawford who’d just signed his one-year, league-minimum deal with the Suns earlier that day and wasn’t active in time for the opener.
“I want to be out there with the guys,” Crawford said. “But I understand that coach has a vision, learning plays and getting practice, I totally get it.”
Crawford had said before the game that he knows his role is to be a mentor, to get in these young guys’ ears on how to play the game.
“I think Devin’s a star. He’ll continue to rise and grow,” Crawford had said pregame of Devin Booker. “Whatever knowledge I can give him about different situations, different reads, I told him he’s already mastered scoring. Now it’s about how to elevate other guys and get the best out of everybody.”
Rookie Deandre Ayton talked about how Booker is giving him pointers all game on pick and roll “flip your hips” and “flip and slip” during the game. Trevor Ariza is constantly talking about and showing these guys how to play winning basketball, and now last year’s Teammate of the Year — as voted by players — joins the team. For Crawford and Ariza, it’s a homecoming of sorts.
“In New York, Trevor was my rookie,” Crawford said with a smile. “That’s crazy huh? My fifth year, and he was my rookie.”
Crawford also played with Tyson Chandler in New York too, and Ariza and fellow forward Ryan Anderson made close friendship on the Rockets.
That’s a lot of veterans having formed friendships with each other on different teams, knowing how they became parts of winning organizations.
“I like what the organization is doing, the moves they’re making,” he said, talking about loving that a former player, James Jones, is running the front office. “All that young talent... you see the balance that needs to happen, and I think they addressed that this summer.”
What does Crawford expect with the Suns? A starting role, or a key bench role? Or just spot minutes on the tail end of a long career?
“However he sees me, wants to use me, I’m on board,” Crawford said of coach Kokoskov.
But he wants everyone to know he’s still got it, that his recent decline in points and overall stats is about a decline in minutes rather than talent. While the career 15-point, 3.4 assist scorer was down to 10.3 points and 2.3 assists last year, his minutes were down from about 26 with the Clippers to 20 with the Timberwolves.
“I still have a lot of gas left,” the 18-year veteran said. “I’m very very excited. I think it will be great. Knowing [Igor’s] philosophies, I think I’ll fit well.”
Here’s the FIRST part of Crawford’s pregame interview with the media (incorrectly titled on YouTube).
Why he chose the Suns
Crawford went on to talk more about what sold him on joining the Suns.
“Talking to Igor, there’s a sincerity to him,” he said. “He speaks from the heart. You can tell he’s very genuine. I trust his vision, and I’ll try to carry that out.”
Crawford realizes the timing is not ideal, for him or the team. He’d have much rather signed with someone earlier. He talked about staying in shape, but not wanting to risk injury without a contract in hand. So there will be conditioning involved on his part, but also a lot of adjustment period to the team and the plays.
“I look at this almost like a trade,” he said. “You go to a team in the middle of the season, you have to learn everything on the fly. For me, I have learn as fast as I can, try to help blend everybody together.”
Kokoskov said that while Thursday would be a light day for the rest of the team, it would be the opposite for Crawford with the coaching staff. Crawford has to learn about “the blender” on offense on their own brand of switching on defense.
Speaking of D, Crawford showed his sense of humor a few times in the interview, including when Arizona Republic beat writer Duane Rankin decided to broach the topic of the other end of the floor.
Rankin: “Coach has been stressing defense, defense—”
Crawford interrupted: “You gonna pick on my defense already?!”
After the whole room cracked up, Crawford answered the question, “I think it’s great. Everybody thinks of Golden State with their offense, but they get on defensive runs to get out in transition and get those easy baskets. I think as long as we lock in and know that it’s not just an individual-based game on defense, we’re all tied together...I’m all for it.”
Listen to the SECOND part of the interview here.
What role will Crawford have?
I’d think that Crawford will be the first guard off the bench behind starter Isaiah Canaan, who knows all the plays and had a nice game on Wednesday night (8 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds).
As good as the team looked, they didn’t look nearly as good with rookie Elie Okobo as the primary backup point guard. It’s just too soon for Okobo to make the right reads and show aggression at the right time. Maybe later this year, but he’s certainly not ready yet.
So I expect Crawford will spend a lot of time with the second unit alongside Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren as the primary playmakers when Booker is out.
Think of Crawford like a better version of the older Leandro Barbosa from his most recent stints with the team. A good veteran presence with a predictable impact on the game who might start some games, might be a playmaker, but is mostly about quick points and a couple assists off the bench as the fourth guard in the rotation (behind Booker, Canaan and Josh Jackson).
When will Crawford play?
“I hope soon. I hope really really soon,” he said. “I’ve missed five games the last three years. I want to be out there as much as possible.”
We’ll see if Saturday night against Denver is that first game.