Posted Apr 27 2010 5:02PM
ATLANTA -- The sales pitch lasted nearly three hours.
Hawks general manager Rick Sund showed up to Jamal Crawford's home in Seattle last summer after a Draft night trade brought the veteran guard to the Hawks from Golden State. Crawford didn't need as much convincing as Sund might have thought, but the conversation flowed and by the time they were done a plan was hatched.
After a decade as a starter, Crawford would come off the bench for the Hawks and help a team take the next step in its evolution from a doormat to a contender while also recreating his own image around the league.
"It's a great feeling and a great moment to see it all coming to fruition," Crawford said Tuesday after winning the 2009-10 NBA Sixth Man Award presented by Kia. "You never know what to expect when you go through that kind of transition, but I can honestly say things have worked out even better than I could have imagined. And we're just getting started."
Crawford won the award in a landslide [official release, vote total]. He received 580 of a possible 610 points, including 110 of a possible 122 first-place votes, from a panel of 122 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Crawford's longtime friend and fellow Seattle native Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks, who won the award last season, finished second with 220 points and Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers finished third with 126 points.
In addition to the hardware he picked up Tuesday afternoon, Crawford also ended his decade-long playoff drought this season, making his first postseason appearance after 676 games.
"I don't think anyone could have scripted this season any better," said Crawford, the league's leading scorer off the bench this season (18 points). "Originally, I was content with just getting an opportunity to play on a wining team, one that had been to the playoffs the last two years. Everything else that came with it was just a bonus."
Still, there was no guarantee Crawford would fit as any team's secondary scoring option, let alone its top reserve.
Sund and Hawks coach Mike Woodson credit Crawford for embracing his role, and his teammates for welcoming him into a team that was already pretty stout when he arrived.
"All we did was provide the opportunity," Woodson said. "Jamal and his teammates are the ones that made it work. They accepted him from the very start. They knew who he was and they understood that he was here to help us get better. And he's done that without question."
Crawford had never come off the bench in his basketball career. But he thrived with the Hawks, a 53-win team that is in the midst of a heated Eastern Conference first-round playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Sund didn't waste any time last summer getting to the point. He explained to Crawford that the Hawks were a team on the cusp of big things and needed a game-changer off the bench to help them join the Eastern Conference elite.
"I told him then that this could be the greatest thing to happen in his career," Sund said. "And I know he thought about it for a while. But it doesn't work if he doesn't embrace it and his teammate don't embrace him."
Hawks reserves Zaza Pachulia and Randolph Morris came out to support Crawford at the presentation ceremony, each of them sticking around after practice to make sure he knew they had his back.
"We're a unit," Pachulia said. "We had to be here for Jamal. He's been great. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed playing with anybody as much as I do Jamal. He's more than just a great scorer, too. He's been great for me and great for our team, on and off the court."
For Crawford, winning the award is validation of a career that often saw him in the wrong place at the right time. At every stop before he joined the Hawks he was seen as a great scorer but not necessarily a "winner."
Dominique Wilkins, who serves as the Hawks' vice president of basketball and is a TV analyst for the team, knew that label was an unfair one, having been unfairly tagged with it himself early on in his Hall of Fame career. He championed Crawford's Sixth Man campaign long before it picked up steam elsewhere.
"I've known Jamal for years on a personal level," Wilkins said. "I knew his game and his personality. He's a soft-spoken guy, very humble and gives as much to his community and the kids as any player I can remember. But don't let the nice guy stuff fool you, he's a cutthroat competitor. And from one offensive player to another, he's tough to deal with because he can get you from all over the floor and even if he's not the first option. That's a rare skill to able to do the things he does."
Still, when you own the league's longest active playoff drought, as Crawford did before bequeathing that honor to Indiana's Troy Murphy when the playoffs began, there's a stigma that comes with it.
"For the longest time I know it was always, 'He's a talented guy, but can you win with him?'" Crawford said. "I think this season has helped show that I can be effective and be on a winning team. Hopefully, this season and this award helps shake that label."
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