Winning Is Jamal Crawford's Top Priority
He has a monumental decision on his hands in the next five weeks: Opt out of the final two years of his contract and become a free agent or return to an uncertain situation in Golden State, a team rich with talent but lacking direction after the firing of GM Chris Mullin who lost a power struggle with upper management.
The 2009 free agent class is shaping up to be solid with standouts such as Philadelphia's Andre Miller, Chicago's Ben Gordon, Toronto's Shawn Marion, the Lakers' Trevor Ariza and Detroit's Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace on the market.
Crawford could be one of the premier players of that class, if he decides to give up the more than $19 million owed over the next two seasons. But money is only one factor in his decision.
"(Winning.) That's No. 1," he said this past weekend at a Seattle pickup basketball tournament. "That's first and foremost. Everything else falls into place. But I want to win before I want to do anything. I've almost capped out for a guy not to make the All-Star Game or playoffs. I'm almost capped out as far as I can go without winning. It's like when you win, the playoffs and the All-Star comes and that's the way it should be. So the winning is definitely the No. 1 priority."
The question Crawford has to answer for himself is whether that winning can occur in Golden State. Traded from the New York Knicks last Nov. 21, Crawford seemed to be a perfect fit for Don Nelson's fast-paced offense and he blended in well. Golden State, however, could be headed for another transitional phase with new GM Larry Riley, another lottery pick on the way and players such as Stephen Jackson , Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette who demand touches because of a score-first mentality, like Crawford.
Crawford is a scoring guard in a point guard's body and perhaps his skills would flourish in another situation. But he has not yet decided to bolt Golden State.
"As far as the opt-out? Not yet, I'll just be patient and see how things work out. I know there's a lot of talk out there but I'll just be patient and see what happens," he said. "If we keep everybody together in Golden State (we could win) ... but the organization has to want to do that. And that's up to them to call who they think fits and who doesn't. I had fun, like I said before. The trade caught me off guard but I felt like I had a good year in Oakland. I had been doing the same thing I did in New York."
The lure of a long-term contract from a team on the rise is enticing to Crawford. He has spent his career defying odds and putting up big numbers, but none of those big games have resulted in a postseason appearance -- he has nearly 600 NBA games and has never played in May. And it's wearing on him.
"It's always tough," he said. " Brandon Roy is one of my best friends and when he went to the playoffs (with Portland) I was just as excited as if I was playing. I told him 'I'm playing through you' and I was up there supporting him and going to games. And this is the closest I've been now it's time to win. You can do all the individual stuff but until you win you won't get the credit you deserve."