Don't look now, but Jordan Crawford has changed his ways and become a legitimate NBA starter. Once labeled as a selfish malcontent, chasing his own personal glory to the detriment of his (numerous) teams, Crawford is now stabilizing his career in Boston. He's the starting point guard for a team that's on pace to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The funny thing is that his former coach - the one who sat helplessly in Washington and watched last season as Crawford largely wasted his potential - isn't surprised.
"He's always been capable of doing what he's doing," Randy Wittman said this morning before his Wizards took on the Celtics. "We've always known that. He's a very good player, and he can affect the game in a lot of different ways. We knew what he was capable of, and I think you guys are seeing that now."
The narrative about Crawford was starkly different last season. The then-24-year-old guard was in Washington against his will, dropped on the Wiz as a throw-in in a deadline trade for Kirk Hinrich a year earlier, and he didn't cope well. The Wizards were terrible, and Crawford thought he was a bigger fish in that small pond than he really was.
Playing a reserve role behind the younger John Wall and Bradley Beal didn't sit well with Crawford. He began taking an inordinate share of shots when he played off the bench, and every time he hit a big one, it became a launching pad to argue he should be starting over Beal. So the Wizards ditched him at the 2013 deadline, getting Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa, two players with expiring contracts who are now out of the league.
The Wizards didn't get Crawford go because of his lack of talent. It was his immaturity and his inability to fit into the team concept.
Crawford is still only 25 now. Just a year older, but lightyears advanced psychologically. Looking back, Wittman is happy to see his former player evolve.
"Everybody goes through that," Wittman said of Crawford's struggles. "Coaches go through that - developing, and learning about handling things different ways. That's life. It's not just being a player, or a coach, or anybody else. You learn through your mistakes."
Which isn't to say Crawford doesn't still have some of those struggles. His mental game still isn't perfect. After all, with as much talent as he brings physically, the stuff between the ears is all that separates Crawford from a big-time NBA star like a Damian Lillard or a James Harden. He's still got room to grow.
As for Crawford's current coach, developing his game is a work in progress, but it's one to be handled delicately. Brad Stevens knows that manhandling Crawford is a sure path to failure, so he's proceeding with care.
"There are human elements to this game," Stevens said. "You can either approach them in that [overbearing] way, or you can just focus on the team, on controlling what you can control.
"One of Jordan's greatest strengths is his willingness and his desire to step up in the moment," Stevens added. "I don't want to do anything to limit that. So one of the things I talk to him about is 'OK, here's what we're looking to do, this is how we're looking to attack,' but he needs to learn to pick his spots and do his own thing. He'll make some mistakes, but that's OK. We'll live with that, we'll ride with that. Hopefully the good plays outweigh the bad ones in the end."
For the most part, they've done so - at least so far this season. We'll see if Crawford can keep it up.