Jamal Crawford Admits His Uncertain Future Has Affected His Play
ATLANTA -- Atlanta guard Jamal Crawford loves being in the South and wants to stay here. The problem, though, is his game lately has been going south.
Crawford, the reigning Sixth Man Award winner, has averaged just 10.0 points on 36.4 percent shooting the past five games to see his seasonal numbers drop to 13.3 and 41.0. That's well under last season's 18.0 scoring average on 44.9-percent marksmanship.
Crawford, making $10.08 million in the final year of his contract, knows one reason why he's been slumping. He wants to sign a contract extension, and that's weighing too heavily on his mind.
"I'm overthinking,'' Crawford said in an interview with FanHouse before Monday's home game against Boston. "I think with everything going on, I'm just thinking too much and not just playing basketball. ... I'd be lying if I said it hasn't crossed my mind, you know, the future. ... Everything's been a little bit of a distraction.''
Crawford has made it no secret he wants to sign an extension to keep him in Atlanta, but there apparently hasn't been much progress made. The Hawks, who have until June 30 to extend Crawford before he would become an unrestricted free agent next summer, just signed center Al Horford to a five-year, $60 million extension, which kicks in next season. It's unclear how much Atlanta will be willing to spend in 2011-12.
Meanwhile, the games continue. And Hawks coach Larry Drew has been stressing to Crawford not to let contract talks be a distraction.
"Having been a player, I can understand how Jamal feels,'' said Drew, a 10-year NBA guard who last played in 1990-91. "I've mentioned it to him, 'Your focus has to be basketball right now.' And just let your agent (Aaron Goodwin) and then management, just let them take care of it. If (an extension) happens, that will be wonderful. But, if it doesn't happen, he can't allow it to affect him to where he's not on the floor performing up to his expectations.
"I've had talks with him and I think we're on the same page. He's already mentioned the fact that it's bothered him, and I know it's bothering him. But ... he's got to move on, and he's ready to get back to the old Jamal Crawford.''
Crawford has said Drew has told him to "just go out there and have fun.'' But the 12-year man says the uncertainty about an extension has remained a distraction even when he tells himself to get it out of his mind.
"I've said it,'' Crawford said. "But it's easier said than done, for sure. You can say it, but you really just have to try to go out there and focus the best you can. Especially, when everybody asks you about wherever you go, it's always a point of distraction.''
Drew said he doesn't know where talk of an extension is right now. Sund didn't return a message, and a team official said he's away for a few days dealing with a family matter.
There have been reports Crawford would want to be traded if not given an extension. He declined to elaborate on whether that's accurate.
"I never, like, said that verbally,'' Crawford said. "There was never a quote saying that. But that was out there. I just never wanted to talk about it. I still don't want to really rehash it.''
Crawford, though, does admit he was disappointed he wasn't given anything to sign before the season.
"I really wanted to get it done,''Crawford said. "I really want to be here. So, with nothing concrete, it was a little frustrating.''
Crawford said the Hawks have been "very open to dialogue'' about an extension. But he realizes he might have to play out the season without getting one.
"I'm prepared with that,'' Crawford said. "I'm just trying to have the best possible year for us as a team. It doesn't have to be averaging 18 a game. It can be 16 or 17. I don't think people look at that any differently. It's just more about the offense and what we're doing differently (under Drew from former coach Mike Woodson). I'm trying to get more assists.''
Crawford, who has raised his assists average from 3.0 last season to 3.3, said he was thrilled when Horford got his deal. He reiterated that staying with the Hawks is his top priority.
"Yeah, I want to be in Atlanta,'' Crawford said.
But if no deal can be reached by Crawford, he's prepared for the possibility he might have to leave. Crawford, who has a 15.5-point career scoring average, is in his second season with the Hawks, his fourth NBA team.
"I would have to,'' Crawford, 30, said of possibly testing the market as a free agent. "At that point, we would have had a year to negotiate. If nothing works out, I would have to test the market. I'm not scared because I believe I would be one of the top free agents out there, especially in the role I'm bringing to the table. So I'm not nervous about it. But I just really want to play here.''
Crawford hasn't helped his possible free-agent status with his rough start. Known for providing instant offense off the bench, his 3-point shooting is down from 38.2 to 30.2 percent.
Crawford's minutes are down slightly from 31.1 to 29.4 as Drew is giving more time to second-year guard Jeff Teague. But Drew has been pleased with Crawford's improved passing, one reason his average shots per game has fallen from 14.0 to 10.2.
"He's been really good just getting the rest of his teammates involved,'' Drew said. "He's been making plays. I thought last year with him, and everybody knows when he gets in a game, he's instant offense and the shot's going up. But this year, he's been a much more early, he's been very willing passer. ... But I am aware also that I've got to put him in situations where he gets his shots up.''
Yes, the Hawks (8-5) need Crawford's offense. While Atlanta went 53-29 last season, Crawford had 49 games of more than 16 points. He has just two so far this season.
"I just told him just to make sure he stays healthy and just play with your heart,'' Hawks forward Josh Smith said of advice he's given Crawford. "Play hard every possession. I think that as long as this team is successful and he's playing well, which he is going to play, he's going to get whatever he's asking for (as far as an extension). He's definitely a guy that can get back-to-back Sixth Man Awards. ... As a player, I would want him to be a part of this organization and this team for a long time.''
For now, though, Crawford knows he must focus a lot more on the present than on the future.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson