Jamal Crawford was frustrated, to say the least.

Crawford, a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year, scored 51 points for the Phoenix Suns in the last game of the 2018-19 season. But at age 40, he went the entirety of the 2019-20 season as a free agent, and his unemployment couldn’t have been a byproduct of character issues, either: Crawford is the league’s reigning Teammate of the Year, revered by those he’s shared a locker room with.

“I went through a range of emotions. I was frustrated at the beginning,” he said. “I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what happened.”

An unfortunate set of circumstances, however, paved the way for Crawford’s NBA return.

The Brooklyn Nets endured a number of injuries, then watched three players (Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince) test positive for the coronavirus. Wilson Chandler also opted out of the Orlando bubble, leaving four open roster spots for substitute players.

The Nets used one of those roster spots to sign Crawford to a rest-of-the-season contract, and no pandemic could keep the veteran scorer off the floor. Both his wife and his son urged him to play.

“Obviously the NBA took all the proper measures and protocols and have been unbelievable. … I’m willing to take the chance because I feel like they’ve got all the bases covered,” he said. “Nothing’s 100 percent, we can stay as close to that as possible and keep players’ safety first. For me it was a no-brainer. An opportunity to play on a team that’s in the playoff hunt, a team that is trying to look to improve with vets out, I feel like for me it would be a great situation and I was honored that I got the call.”

Crawford is going to be asked to take on a leadership role with the Nets in the NBA’s 22-team resumption of the regular season in Orlando. He is the oldest player on the roster; by default the elder statesman for a young team hungry to keep its playoff standing in the Eastern Conference.

Crawford also says he’s been watching the Nets play all season and is a fan of the team they have put together. It also doesn’t hurt that two of his best basketball friends are the stars of the team.

“Kevin (Durant) and Ky (Irving) are probably two of my closest friends in the league so I watch them and support them anyway,” he said. “Young talented team, veterans. I think they have a great mix. I think Sean has done an unbelievable job. I think JV (Jacque Vaughn) in the two games he coached was really good. I loved watching him and being a part of what he’s doing as well.

“He’s so uplifting. I think he gives guys freedom on the court. When you give you your players that kind of freedom it takes thought out of the game. So I’m excited about bringing leadership, bringing playmaking, bringing scoring, bringing whatever is asked of me. Whatever is asked of me I try to do to the best of my ability and try to help the team for the stretch run.”

The Nets recently welcomed in a number of their newest signings. Both Crawford and combo guard Tyler Johnson, who was signed after Brooklyn waived reserve guard Theo Pinson, appeared in their first practice with the rest of the team after finishing a six-day quarantine and a combination of coronavirus tests. The Nets also signed Michael Beasley, but Beasley tested positive for COVID-19 and has since left the Orlando bubble.

“(We’re) not just gonna throw them out and press their bodies into a position we don’t want them in yet, with the goal of really getting them in game shape,” Vaughn said. “Overall Jamal’s a guy that’s gonna be able to understand the flow of the game and speed of the game and put himself in the right position just by sheer IQ. Tyler’s ability to compete, he wanted to be in every drill, and trusted that I might have to pull him out some of them.”

The Nets need all the healthy bodies they can get, and in Crawford, they’re getting more than just a healthy body: Brooklyn picked up one of the most prolific off-the-bench scorers in NBA history.

Crawford, for his part, is full of gratitude. He’s appreciative of another opportunity to play after more than a year away from the game he loves.

“It’s a blessing. It really is, because I’ve been on the outside for a year and once it gets to a certain point, you’re not sure that call’s going to happen, and you have to face that reality as well,” he said. “Just staying in love with the game. When you’re in love with it you’re willing to do whatever it takes, whether be it cold tubs, or massages, acupuncture, whatever it might be.

“I think when you love the game purely all those things you’re willing to do is sacrifice. I love it purely, and I think that’s the only reason I’m still playing at this point.”


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