TUALATIN, Ore. — Now this…this just might be a team.
Six days after one of the bleakest days in Trail Blazers history — when Brandon Roy retired, Greg Oden found out he might miss another season, and LaMarcus Aldridge had to undergo a procedure for his heart — there appears to be a hint of sunshine in this perpetually overcast franchise.
Thursday afternoon, unrestricted free agent Jamal Crawford and Portland agreed to a two-year deal that will provide the Blazers with a suddenly formidable backcourt. The 6-foot-6 Crawford, who averaged 14.2 points per game with the Hawks last year and won Sixth Man of the Year the season before that, will fill the shooting-guard void left by Roy’s unexpected departure.
“I think this hopefully solidifies us a a team that can be a playoff team…I think if we’re healthy, we’re going to be a pretty tough team come playoff team,” said Blazers interim general manager Chad Buchanan, who would not disclose the details of Crawford’s contract. “I think with losing Brandon you gotta find someone to plug in that position, and I think Jamal is a pretty darn good player to be plugging in there.”
As excited as Buchanan was to be adding Crawford, he still labeled Thursday as “a bittersweet day.” After all, in order to create enough cap room to sign the 11-year-veteran, Portland had to use the amnesty clause on Roy to get his contract off the books. Obviously, the Blazers were not expecting Roy to be playing after announcing his retirement last Friday, but this decision officially prevents the three-time All Star from wearing a Blazers jersey should he decide to return.
“We know what Brandon has meant, he’s special to me…he has been here when things have really been tough for us,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “Looking forward to Brandon, LaMarcus and Greg being that foundation for the future. I really never got the opportunity to see that. When Brandon announced his retirement, it was bittersweet, because we knew we were losing not only a special person, but a special player.
Then McMillan added: “He was the closer. The closer has closed.”
With Crawford, on the other hand, things have been very open. For instance, various Blazers were more-than-open about their desire for him to come to town. Aldridge said in an interview with the Oregonian last month that he “would love for (Crawford) to come play in Portland. I put it out there so he knows I’m serious. If he really wants to do that, I wanted him to know I’m behind it.” The wooing continued as late as Wednesday night, with Blazers guard Wesley Matthews conversing with Crawford via phone and selling him on the team and its style of play.
Perhaps most influential was the fans inundating Crawford with recruiting messages on Twitter, letting it be known how badly he was wanted in Portland. In fact, Buchanan thanked fans for the Twitter campaign, which he said he knew Crawford appreciated.
Before Thursday, Crawford had narrowed his choices down to Sacramento and Portland. The Kings were actually able to offer him more money, but after publicly mulling his decision over Twitter for a day or so, Crawford tweeted Thursday morning “Rip City!”
Crawford, who has played with Chicago, New York, Golden State, and Atlanta, holds career averages of 15.4 points and 3.9 assists per game. In the 2007-2008 season, he put up 20.6 points per contest with the Knicks.
But what most impressed Matthews during his Wednesday night conversation with Crawford was what he was willing to do on the other side of the ball.
“What stuck out to me is that he wants to play defense. He said he was going to try,” Matthews said. “I think this just adds more fuel to the fire, makes us even more dynamic, even more interchangeable.”
Crawford, who lives in Seattle, was expected to drive down to Portland Thursday night.