It’s difficult when your passion is perceived as selfishness or your confidence is perceived as arrogance. Or when your propensity to score is perceived as narcissism.
Jordan Crawford comes to Boston as a 24-year-old guard with a lot of stories to tell, a cemented reputation as a scorer with no conscience, but also lofty impressions of himself. His stint in Washington ended poorly, with Crawford upset about his sixth-man role, unable to understand being displaced by Bradley Beal, and unsure why his role was shrinking on a club that was building for the future.
Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said it succinctly after his club traded Crawford to the Celtics for the expiring contracts of Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins (and nothing else): “Jordan did not fit into our current plans . . . or our future plans.”
Sobering talk from an executive whose team is headed for another lottery appearance, and a testament to how far Crawford had fallen in the Wizards’ pecking order.
Confidence, or perhaps overconfidence, has been an issue for Crawford since his AAU days. He always has had the ability to score, and who could forget his Internet-sensation dunk against LeBron James during a Nike camp while Crawford was at Xavier?
When he hit the NBA about a year later, in 2010, Crawford quickly gained the reputation as a volume scorer — and volume shooter. The label has stuck, and during his years in Washington, he experienced a plethora of changes, with teammates being shuttled in and out and the team adopting a series of new philosophies.
When the Wizards drafted the gifted Beal third overall last year and made it clear he was their cornerstone, Crawford was being pushed out. And when John Wall returned from injury to complete the Washington backcourt of the future, he was essentially done.
Doc Rivers is close friends with Washington coach Randy Wittman and heard all of the Crawford stories, especially his sentiment that he was better than most of his teammates. Still, Rivers had no issue with the trade, hoping a fresh start, new environment, and established teammates can turn Crawford into a more cooperative player while maintaining his propensity to score.
There already have been some “ugh” moments of bad shots or questionable decisions, but Rivers expected that. Crawford understands the difference in a winning environment and how perceptions sometimes can be realities.
“I think everybody knows my rep,” he said. “They know when it comes to basketball and me, I don’t play games. Everybody knows that.”
He was very clear about his time in Washington, about how a losing culture can create stereotypes.
“If you’re around foolishness, they’re going to think you’re a fool,” he said. “But yeah, I’m very serious about this game.
“When a whole bunch of stuff is going on and you can’t pinpoint one thing, you are not going to fix it, and it’s going to take a long time. It was hard, but it was also fun, because me being a Wizard and having a rough team, I had to come prepared every night. So it helped me out.”
The question for Crawford is whether he is a winner or just a ballplayer. Many younger players are so focused on getting up shots and producing numbers that their attention never gets focused on team success. They take losses lightly, bask in their 30-point games, and have no issue being home in late April watching LeBron, Kevin Garnett, and Kevin Durant on television.
Crawford wanted to make it clear that he loves the game, and that is critical. If he is going to be a part of the Celtics’ future (the club has control of his contract until 2015), then he has to shift his attention to factors other than buckets.
“I think it’s just really wanting to take advantage of the opportunity first and foremost,” he said. “You can get used to the [NBA] life and get satisfied. Me? I just want to have that mentality to go out and prove myself every game and I think that’s why I can score every night, because I want to.”
Rivers would rather Crawford mix in a little defense with that scoring, and so far the Detroit native is giving the effort. He will have to work hard to break into the rotation, use his athleticism to make plays other than dropping threes or streaking to the hoop for layups.
Life as a Celtic involves unselfishness and balance, blending into the team concept, or being shuttled out of town. Crawford understands his new situation. He understands he stepped into an organization that expects, not just hopes, to win nightly.
“First I was nervous,” he said. “It’s the Boston Celtics. It was a perfect opportunity. You’ve got intense guys.
“The way I think of it, there’s no adjustment period. I don’t want people to say, ‘Let him get adjusted, it’s going to take a couple of games.’
“I want to come immediately and help them and continue rolling with what already they got going.”
Then maybe the perceptions will change.