PORTLAND, Ore. — Call it a case of buyer’s remorse, but just over a year after matching the Nets’ four-year offer sheet worth $75 million for Allen Crabbe, the Portland Trail Blazers traded the sharp-shooting but inconsistent shooting guard to the Nets in July. Crabbe, who will return for the first time since the trade on Friday night at the Moda Center, has gone from being a luxury item in a backup role to starting for the Nets as one of the key players in their rebuild.
“I’m happy to be back,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s kind of weird being here. It’s the first time getting into Portland and going to the hotel and not my house.
“I’m excited, trying to see what kind of reaction I get from the fans . . . After I got traded and the schedule came out, this is the first game that I looked for. It was a good time here, but I think it’s going to be fun playing against old teammates and coaching staff. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Crabbe expects a positive reaction from the fans because he left as the result of a trade, and he said he misses his former teammates and still follows the Blazers. “It was kind of bittersweet making that decision to leave, but you’ve got to do stuff for your career sometimes,” he said. “It’s a bigger role over here, so I felt like that was the best move for me.”
In truth, Portland fans applauded the trade because it created salary-cap flexibility for the Blazers. Crabbe always was going to play behind the stellar backcourt duo of Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum, and dumping his $19.3-million salary cleared $16 million off their cap and cut their luxury tax bill from $48 million to $4.4 million.
Although he finished with the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA last season at 44.4 percent, Crabbe’s inconsistency was maddening to fans. That trait traveled with him to the Nets.
He’s averaging a career-high 11.1 points, but his three-point percentage is down to 37.1, his overall shooting percentage has dropped from 46.8 to 37.5, and he has scored in single digits in six of 11 games, including a scoreless night against the Knicks and a three-point outing in Denver on Tuesday, when he shot 1-for-8.
“I’ll take the blame for the inconsistency,” Crabbe said. “That’s on me. It’s not any inconsistency with my teammates or not learning how to play with them. I feel like I’ve had enough time. It’s just me.
“One of the biggest things I’m trying to change is the inconsistency part, having 20 one night and the next night having three or four. I think it’s just me having that mindset to be aggressive.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said Crabbe has the potential “to be an elite starter in this league.” The coach blamed himself for the offense being out of sync and said that has hurt Crabbe, but he also acknowledged the importance of Crabbe producing regularly for the Nets.
“In Portland, he could be on one or two out of every five nights,” Atkinson said. “With us, we need it every night.”