Sometimes in life some things just seem meant to be, and for 18-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford, finally playing for the Timberwolves feels like one of those situations.
A former Michigan standout who played once at Williams Arena, Crawford’s pro career started in Minneapolis six months later when he was the eighth player selected overall — picked by Cleveland, traded to Chicago — in the 2000 NBA draft held at Target Center that summer.
Through the years, two Wolves management teams expressed interest in him. Early in his career, Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders were intrigued by the kind of scoring talent that eventually helped Crawford win three Sixth Man of the Year awards since 2010 and sought him in trades.
In 2012, David Kahn and Rick Adelman nearly made a trade-deadline deal with Portland for Crawford. They also chased him in free agency that summer before he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Now his career is right back where it started those many years ago, after the Clippers traded him to Atlanta last week in a three-team deal. The Hawks then granted Crawford’s request for a contract buyout that allowed him to agree to a two-year, $8.9 million contract to play for the Wolves.
“The ties with Minnesota always have kind of been there,” Crawford said. “It’s come full circle now, and the stars lined up at the right time.”
Superstar LeBron James recruited him to sign with Cleveland, and Crawford acknowledges he could have chased a ring with the Cavaliers or Golden State. But they didn’t have the $4.3 million “room” exception slot to offer that the Wolves did nor could either team promise such a featured scoring role on their team’s second unit, not like a Wolves team that still has just 11 players committed to its roster.
Other teams didn’t present the kind of personal connections that Crawford has with people in the Wolves’ organization, either: He played with new starting point guard Jeff Teague in Atlanta and with veteran center Cole Aldrich in Los Angeles. Assistant coach Rick Brunson “was my first vet” at the start of his career in Chicago and Assistant General Manager Noah Croom worked for Crawford’s longtime agent Aaron Goodwin for years.
Crawford also said he has come to know Tom Thibodeau, coach/president of basketball operations, through the years they’ve competed against each other both in the regular season and in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He even over time struck up an acquaintance with Wolves owner Glen Taylor since Crawford came into the league.
“It’s weird, but we’ve been friendly from Day 1,” Crawford said. “We always shook hands. There was always something there, just knowing him a bit.”
The mentor conferred with the pupil when Crawford asked former Wolves guard Zach LaVine — two Seattle guys from different generations — before he chose to sign with the team and move his family, including three young children, to Minnesota later this summer.
Crawford is coming to town next week for a physical examination. He’ll sign his contract and be officially introduced at a news conference as well.
There was a time not that long ago when LaVine was part of the team’s future. Now he’s headlining a rebuilding project in Chicago where Crawford began his career while the 18-year vet is returning to newly remodeled Target Center, where his NBA career began on draft night.
“That’s crazy,” Crawford said. “He’s where I started and for me, hopefully I can be here the rest of my years.”
Crawford watched Thibodeau and the Wolves trade for three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler on draft night and agreed to terms with free agents Teague and Taj Gibson to go with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
“They showed they were serious, trying to get things done right away,” Crawford said. “I felt like the time is right. I felt like I could fit. At this point of my career, I could easily chase a championship. I’m not saying we won’t compete, but it’s not about that. I want to take the journey and go through the wars with these guys. The Cavs, they’ve been there. Those guys know what it’s like to be in the Finals and win a championship. The Warriors, same deal. If I went there and let’s say we happen to win, what’s next? Sometimes it’s more gratifying to help teams go from one point to another point.
“That’s the challenge. That’s what so fun about it. What if you went to the movies and knew how it ended when the movie started? It’s exciting because nobody really knows what we can be.”
Crawford might have been more inclined to chase that championship if he felt his career is in its final season or two. But at age 37, he says he doesn’t. He has played all 82 and 79 games the past two seasons. His 12.3-point scoring average last season was the lowest since his third pro season in Chicago, but so, too, were his 26.3 minutes played a game.
He attributes that to sacrifices each Clippers player made last season — an unsuccessful attempt to finally make a long playoff run — rather than proof that time is starting to win.
“If you go through his game log from last season, you see he had big games against a lot of really good teams,” Thibodeau said. “It doesn’t take him much to get going, and that’s the way he has always been. When he comes into the game, it’s on. So I like that. I like that type of spark coming off the bench.”
Towns was 4 years old when Crawford played his first NBA game. That’s 17 years and 1,251 regular-season and playoff games ago, and Crawford vows he’s not nearly done yet.
“I feel like 27,” Crawford said. “I feel great, I really do. I take care of myself. I never really get out of shape. I feel I can play another four, five years at this level without a doubt. I feel rejuvenated.”
• Center Matt Costello had 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Wolves to an 80-73 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday in the Las Vegas Summer League. Charles Cook added 13 points and Perry Ellis 12.
• Rod Johnson, the in-arena voice of the Wolves for the past 21 years, will step down as their public address announcer, the team revealed.