By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
Posted Oct 15 2010 6:22PM
For Jamal Crawford, it should be the best of times. Instead, it's the most vexing of times.
He's coming off his most satisfying season, by far, in 10 as a pro. He won the Sixth Man of the Year Award. He ended the longest playoff drought of any active player. He played in a city he liked, with teammates he enjoyed.
But he'll probably leave and join the fifth team of his career next summer, if not before. He's in the final year of a contract the Hawks are unlikely to extend anytime soon, if ever, because they dropped $125 million on All-Star Joe Johnson and must take action on All-Star Al Horford's deal.
This isn't an organization that can handle a heavy payroll. The ownership group doesn't have Paul Allen money, and the Hawks can be a tough sell at Philips Arena even with a good team. Therefore, although he wants to stay in Atlanta, Crawford finds himself caught in the middle, soon to be squeezed out by economics.
It should be interesting how it all plays out this season. The Hawks can trade Crawford, because he can give salary cap relief for another team. But if he doesn't fetch a functional big man, then trading Crawford could be detrimental to the Hawks, who need his scoring and ball-handling off the bench and ability to play both guard positions.
The least of the Hawks' worries is Crawford sulking and brooding over the non-action on his contract and turning into a clubhouse cancer. It simply isn't in his DNA. But are they willing to risk keeping a player whose concentration may be split between his present and his future?
"You can tend to over-think the situation," Crawford admitted, "instead of just going with the flow."
He's had an odd journey to this point. Most players who are traded three times in five years are either malcontents or slackers, and Crawford is the exact opposite. He's averaged almost 18 points a game over his last seven seasons, never caused problems with coaches or teammates and always reflected well on whatever organization he played for. Folks in Chicago, New York and Golden State have nothing but positive things to say about Crawford's time there. But circumstances always led him elsewhere, mostly to free up cap space for the club that gave him up.
And once again, money is nudging Crawford toward the exit.
"I played to the best of my ability here," he said. "I'm a loyal person. I thought the Hawks would step up. I'd love to make it work here. I've had the most fun, to be on such a good team, to be part of this organization. I just want to know for sure that I'm part of the future."
Obviously, the motivation to get a deal done before next summer is the unsettled labor situation. If a hard cap is put in place, it could place limits on what Crawford could make. Not that he's ready for the poor house; he'll pocket $10 million this season and somebody will grab him next offseason, a weak one for free agents. It's just that the players and their agents are anticipating the worst, in terms of their ability to push for more money and longer contract lengths.
Money aside, the Hawks are in good hands with Crawford. He averaged 18 points and shot 45 percent in the regular season and was one of the few Hawks who showed up in the playoffs, which ended with an embarrsing semifinals sweep at the hands of the Magic.
He felt at ease and at home for a team that won 53 games and spent much of last season among the elite in the NBA. Crawford found himself running in a tight race with good friend Jason Terry, who grew up near Crawford in Seattle, for the Sixth Man award. The award became a confirmation of sorts for Crawford, who until then was usually known for putting up decent numbers on lousy teams, and never making the playoffs until 2010.
"The most enjoyable year I've ever had," said Crawford. "I felt comfortable."
Crawford toned down his tendency to launch difficult, possession-killing shots and doubled as a crunch-time ball-handler for a team that's somewhat suspect at point guard. He also bailed out the Hawks in fourth quarters with a handful of game-winning shots. In that sense, he gives the Hawks an option other than Johnson.
"I expect Jamal to do what he normally does for us," said new coach Larry Drew. "Not many players in the NBA have his ability to bring points and energy off the bench."
If nothing else, the motivation for Crawford to duplicate that season is there.
"I just want something solid, to feel part of a family," he said.
This family might put him up for adoption.
1. TEAGUE GOES BIG LEAGUE:
The Hawks would love for second-year man Jeff Teague to overtake veteran Mike Bibby, one of the least productive starters last season. But first, Teague must show he's ready.
2. NEW VOICE, BETTER RESULTS
Drew is a coach who instructs by teaching, not yelling, and the Hawks suspect that might connect better with the players, especially Josh Smith.
3. HAWKS DODGE DWIGHTMARE
The Hawks, with no defensive stopper at center, have no answer for Dwight Howard, who rips their hearts out every time. Pray they don't meet Orlando in May.
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LAST YEAR: 53-29, 2nd in Southeast
FINISH: Lost in Eastern Conference semifinals
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
JOE JOHNSON, GUARD
21.3 PPG | 4.9 APG | 4.7 RPG
Hawk is better all-around; few NBA guards can match his skill set (passing, shooting dribbling). But too much Iso-Joe can kill a shot clock.
MIKE BIBBY, GUARD
39% 3PT | 3.9 APG | 9.1 PPG
Aging (12 seasons) and slowing, Bibby is riding off into the sunset not so fabulously. He can still hit an open shot, but otherwise a he's a liability.
JOSH SMITH, FORWARD
15.7 PPG | 8.7 RPG | 2.14 BPG
He's capable of the spectacular, on both ends of the floor, but is sometimes undone by mental mistakes. A borderline All-Star and a hybrid who’s too quick for most power forwards.
MARVIN WILLIAMS, FORWARD
10.1 PPG | 5.7 RPG | 1.1 APG
Didn't flourish under Mike Woodson; maybe Larry Drew can bring flush out the potential in a player the Hawks are still counting on for points.
AL HORFORD, CENTER
14.2 PPG | 9.9 RPG | 1.14 BPG
Until the Hawks find a taller and truer center, Horford will do. He seldom gets out-hustled and last season became a first-time All-Star.
|Jamal Crawford||6-5||200||G||Most dangerous 6th man the league, and 4th quarter replacement for Bibby.|
|Zaza Pachulia||6-11||275||C||Somewhat robotic backup center who can muscle his way for rebounds or mistakes.|
|Jeff Teague||6-2||180||G||Woodson had no confidence in Teague, reckless and wild as a rookie. He must replace Bibby ASAP.|
ADDED: Jordan Crawford, Pape Sy, Josh Powell, Etan Thomas
JOE JOHNSON, GUARD
Joe Johnson was the runaway winner, financially, in the free agent sweepstakes last summer. And yet his return to the Hawks was met with a collective shrug in Atlanta. Perhaps because he took a shot at the home fans following an embarrassing playoff ouster, and because he simply isn't a big draw at the gate, Johnson doesn't inspire much buzz in town. The Hawks won't regret giving him that 6-year mammoth contract this year or next, assuming he stays at an All-Star level. But what about the last 4 years?
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