One of the issues facing the NBA as it gears up for its return to action at Disney World starting on July 30 is contending with players who do not want to participate. Their withdrawal, it turns out, could be a big boon for guys who have been on the outs in the NBA in the past year.
While most players have backed the return of the league, even in a truncated form and with 22 teams rather than all 30, there are players who do not feel the risk of going to the league’s “bubble” environment is worth it.
Participating in the planned final eight games, plus the playoffs, will require an extended time away from families and will put players at risk for COVID-19 infection, should the sanitized bubble somehow be penetrated by the novel coronavirus. Players who do not want to take that risk will be excused from rejoining their teams without penalty.
In doing so, those players could open some valuable roster spots, especially for two veteran shooters who have been shut out of the league this season—J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, players who signed a contract in the past two seasons will be eligible for the revamped NBA rosters.
Each has extensive playoff experience, with Smith appearing in 130 postseason games and winning a championship alongside LeBron James in Cleveland. Crawford has played in 74 playoff games, though he never made it past the second round.
Neither was very successful in his last NBA go-round, though—Crawford averaged 7.9 points on 39.7% shooting, 33.2% from the 3-point line, for Phoenix in 2018-19, while Smith averaged 6.7 points on 34.2% shooting, 30.8% 3-point shooting, in 11 games for Denver in 2018.
Smith, Crawford Ready to Come Back
Both Smith and Crawford have been outspoken about wanting to be back in the league despite remaining unsigned this season.
“It’s been a roller coaster because I’ve been in the league 15 years,” Smith said on the Pat McAfee show this month. “To not be a part of something that I have been part of something for so long at the highest level, it is so deteriorating. Honestly, I felt like I was depressed, I felt like finding a purpose of getting up every day and doing something was a struggle for a long time. Fortunately, I have gotten out of that rut and got back into the love and appreciation of the game.”
Crawford, who is now 40 years old, told ESPN in March he has been waiting for the call back to the league.
“I’ve been training as if I’m playing,” Crawford said. “I work out every single day. I was working out today actually and I’ve always loved it. I know I can help, in some regards, in some capacity.”
Thomas, Green, Stephenson Also Vet Free Agents
Whether a team will sign either guy could depend, in part, on which players will opt out of the NBA’s reboot. Teams will be allowed 17-man rosters, so even if only a handful of players drop out, there will be space for Smith, Crawford and other veterans like Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green and Lance Stephenson.
The Lakers have already expressed interest in Smith and had him into the team facility for a workout before ultimately signing Dion Waiters in March. Smith was seen in Los Angeles riding a bicycle with James and Lakers star Anthony Davis, fueling speculation he could head to Orlando as a Laker.
But with the ability to take, risk-free, new players onto expanded rosters, there figure to be more teams angling for a shot at veterans like Smith and Crawford.
The Celtics will enter the NBA reset with a bench short on experience, relying on Marcus Smart as the sixth man, with rookies Romeo Langford and Grant Williams having prominent reserve roles. The team would welcome veteran bench help—a third Gerald Green stint in Boston would be welcome.
So, too, would Houston, which has a thin bench and badly needs some depth. The Rockets, a darkhorse in Orlando, signed DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green off the waiver wire after the trading deadline.
Dallas will be short on players, too, with Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson ruled out in Orlando because of injuries. The Mavs need another big guy and a bench guard.
The Clippers could be a team to watch, too. L.A. has as good a roster, top-to-bottom, as any team in the league but still would have an interest in ensuring its bench has the depth needed for a sustained run.
It’s been a frigid market for Smith, Crawford and others to this point. But as the league opens a new window for pre-Orlando transactions, that figures to change.