Three years ago today, everything seemed ideal in the basketball life of Allen Crabbe.
The former Cal star scored a career-high 41 points that night in the Brooklyn Nets’ 114-105 victory over the Chicago Bulls. He made 12 of 15 shots, including 8 of 11 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I just shook his hand after the game, and it was still hot, still cooking,” said Kenny Atkinson, the Nets’ coach at the time.
“I’m glad I had this night on my birthday,” Crabbe told reporters, “and we got the win. So it’s just the cherry on top.”
Three years later, Crabbe is celebrating his birthday again — just not on an NBA court. Still just 29, his career appears to be over. He has been out of the NBA since Feb. 20 of last year when he was waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Crabbe declined a request to be interviewed for this story through his representatives.
No one should worry about Crabbe’s financial future. In July 2016, the Portland Trail Blazers signed him to a four-year, $75 million contract that ran through the end of the 2020 campaign.
Crabbe became a free agent at that point and, as nearly a 39-percent career 3-point shooter, would seem to be a player who might help a team as a scorer coming off the bench. He continues to work out in hopes of landing with a team, he rep said.
But the 6-foot-6 shooting guard has not played this season and his final two NBA seasons — with three different teams — were notable mostly for the time he missed. A bad knee shut him down twice for long stretches during the 2018-19 season. Brooklyn traded him to Atlanta that offseason, the Hawks shipped him to Minnesota at midseason a year ago and the Timberwolves released him barely a month later.
Rewind to three years ago, and the 2013 Pac-12 Player of the Year was in the midst of his finest pro season. Crabbe started 68 games for the Nets, averaged a career-best 13.2 points and set a franchise record with 201 3-point baskets.
Crabbe had arrived in Brooklyn the previous offseason in a trade orchestrated by another former Cal player, general manager Sean Marks. It was Marks who signed Crabbe, a restricted free-agent, to an offer sheet of $75 million over four years in the summer of 2016.
Portland matched the offer, signing Crabbe less than two months after he had scored a playoff career-high 20 points in a Game 5 elimination loss to the Warriors.
Crabbe, who had made a total of $2.6 million over his first three NBA seasons, later said he was happy in Portland and would have agreed to a minimum deal. “I was shocked. I was definitely shocked,” he said of the Nets’ offer that prompted the Blazers to match their terms.
Portland GM Neil Olshey played up the signing, labeling Crabbe a “foundational player.”
That feeling wore off quickly in Portland — where Damian Lillard clearly was the franchise’s top man — but apparently not in Brooklyn. A year later, Marks still was interested and swung a trade to secure Crabbe, even with $56 million remaining on his contract.
“It’s a match made in heaven,” Crabbe said at the time.
And it was good, until Crabbe’s body began to cause trouble. On Dec. 12, 2018, Crabbe scored 20 points in a win over the 76ers, capping a four-game stretch where he averaged 17.5 points and made 56 percent of his 3-point attempts.
But Crabbe missed the next game with a sore right knee. He didn’t play again for nearly two months before returning to average 9.9 points over 15 games. Then he went back to the sideline for the final 12 regular-season games and the playoffs.
“The approach was to try to go after it: just let it heal on its own,” Crabbe told the New York Daily News in December of 2019. “It was like an ongoing thing. I remember in the beginning when it first happened it was going to be like two or three games and it turned into like 19, 20 games, and then finally came back . . . and then it blew up again. So I was like, ‘Alright, man, might as well just get the surgery.’ ”
Turns out the surgery did not provide a lasting remedy. Crabbe scored more than 11 points just once in 37 games a year ago with the Hawks and Timberwolves.
Marks and the Nets emerged from the relationship with a favorable outcome. Brooklyn had to package two high draft picks in the trade with Atlanta, but dumping the final year of Crabbe’s salary freed cap space that helped Marks sign Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Crabbe told the Daily News he had mixed emotions about the Nets shipping him to the Hawks. “You do feel a type of way when you get traded by a team. But the pieces they got over there, you can’t complain,” Crabbe said. “It’s a business and they did what they had to do.”
No doubt, Crabbe would have liked a longer, healthy career. But he did OK on the business end of things, too.
Consider that in 1961-62, when Wilt Chamberlain averaged an NBA-record 50.4 points, he earned an estimated $100,000, which works out to $24.82 for each of the 4,029 points he scored.
Times change and Michael Jordan earned $9,175 per point during the four-year span of his highest salaries (1994-95 through 1997-98). LeBron James, in the same circumstance (2016-17 through 2019-20), collected $18,539 for every point he netted.
How did Crabbe fare?
His 2,420 points over the length of the the deal he signed in the summer of 2016 average out to a whopping $30,640 per point.
Was he grossly overpaid? Well, sure.
To which we say, good for you, Allen Crabbe. The Blazers made the offer and Crabbe accepted it. Like anyone else would have.
Cover photo of Allen Crabbe by Nichole Sweet, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo