Jamal Crawford Is at Peace, Even if His Contract Situation Isn't
More than four months later, neither an extension nor a trade has transpired. The only change, as it turns out, has been in Crawford's mood.
The 11-year veteran is finally at peace with his situation, having played some of his best basketball of the season recently while embracing the idea that free agency is likely around the corner. He has averaged 27 points in the Hawks' last three games, shooting 55.5 percent from the field (25 of 45) in a loss to Oklahoma City and wins over the Clippers and Sacramento that improved Atlanta's record to 23-14.
And while Crawford is still a bit off his production levels of last season, he has recovered from a slow start quite nicely while making it sound as if he wouldn't accept an extension offer if one wound up coming his way before the June 30 deadline.
"It's weird, because honestly at first I just wanted a place I knew I could call home, but unfortunately (an extension) didn't work out," Crawford explained after scoring a season-high 31 points on 10-of-17 shooting and dishing out seven assists on Tuesday night. "But now, I'm excited about my future and whatever the summer will bring. ... Now I get a chance to pick where I want to go."
The root of Crawford's fear was the looming labor situation, as the idea of being unemployed just in time for a lockout that so many expect this summer made him uneasy. But Crawford said he has since had his mind put at ease on that front.
"(The labor situation) doesn't really scare me anymore honestly, because there's nothing I can really do about it," he said. "I just have to be patient and see however it shakes out and make my decision."
The other factor in his frustration was the uneven distribution of the Hawks' payroll, as the six-year, $123 million deal given to shooting guard Joe Johnson in July combined with the five-year, $60 million extension given to forward Al Horford in early November meant there wasn't much of the Hawks' financial pie left for Crawford. As such, he said they will be given no special consideration in the recruiting process.
"It's completely wide open," he said when asked how he'll look at the Hawks in free agency. "At that point (in the summer), we would've had a whole year to discuss it and it didn't work out, so at that point I'd be completely open."
For all the public posturing surrounding Crawford, first-year Hawks coach Larry Drew raved about the way his top reserve handled the situation internally. The two had a sit-down meeting in training camp to discuss Crawford's situation, with Drew -- who was a 10-year veteran himself -- telling his player to simply play and let the business side handle itself.
"The final result (of the meeting) was, 'Coach, I'm ready to play. I'm glad you're the head coach here. I'm going to do whatever you need me to do,'" Drew said. "He has totally embraced everything we do."
Crawford, who missed five games recently with a sore back, is scoring less (18 points per game last season compared to 15 per this season) largely because he's shooting less (14 shots per game last season down to 11.6 this season). Much of that is due to Drew's system, as he is demanding more ball movement and less of the isolation play that Atlanta was so widely known for in recent years. Crawford's field-goal percentage this season is nearly identical from 2009-10 (44.4 to 44.9, respectively), as is his three-point percentage (36.1 to 38.2 percent).
Drew, the longtime Hawks assistant who signed a two-year deal worth a combined $2.5 million to become the head coach in early June, made it clear he wants Crawford to return next season.
"No doubt; no doubt I want him back," he said. "There's no question about that. I know what his value is to this ball club, and I'm going to do everything in my power to get him back. He's such a value to us."
Crawford is earning $10 million in the final year of his contract, but placing a new price on his value has obviously been the problem. But for Johnson's money -- of which there is plenty, of course -- he would like to see Crawford return as well.
"Everybody in our front office knows how much of a key piece he is to this team," said Johnson, who missed nine games in December after having elbow surgery and is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career from an offensive standpoint. "I can't really see him going anywhere else. Something's got to happen. I don't know what, but I'm sure they'll make something happen."
Crawford doesn't sound so confident, but he's content once again, nonetheless.
E-mail Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @sam_amick.