Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Jamal Crawford(notes) has one year left on his contract, one that will pay him $10.8 million this season before expiring next summer. And, if you really want to get uneasy with it, $10.8 million for Jamal Crawford in his prime is still way, way too much. He scores, yes, but does precious little else on the court besides getting hot from about 20 feet away from the hoop. Eight figures for a one dimensional player, even if he's quite good at his lone dimension? That's a lot of money.

But that shouldn't stop teams from trying to acquire Jamal Crawford. Nor should it stop the Atlanta Hawks from trying to trade him. And it shouldn't - and I can't believe I'm writing this - stop Crawford from trying to force a deal to another team.

You see, the Hawks have declined to offer last year's Sixth Man Award winner a contract extension, which I think they're right to do. Assuming they pass on trading Jamal, the Hawks would have traded for the best two years of Crawford's prime, while admittedly paying a hefty price (right at $20 million, over two years) for the rights to it. Extending this guy beyond 2010-11 at anything more than half of what he's making now would be a bit daft.

But Crawford, assuming he and his representatives start to do a better job of keeping their wishes under wraps, is well within his rights to try and push for a deal (or new deal, with the extension) before training camp hits. A full season with a new team would allow for that new team - provided some approximation of the current salary cap rules carry over to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement - to go over the salary cap limit to re-sign him after this deal expires. And Crawford - a one-dimensional player who would be 31 at the time of his free agency - doesn't want to be seeking out a new deal amongst what few teams have salary cap space next summer.

But despite the largesse of Crawford's Isiah Thomas-penned contract, and the way public trade demands make me uneasy, I can't blame the man for seeking out a new home.

Because Crawford has been trade bait in almost every season he's played since being drafted in 2000. He was traded the night he was drafted, to Chicago, and was involved in trade rumors in the days immediately following the deal that sent him to the Bulls. And when I say, "in the days immediately following," I mean "from June of 2000, to July of 2004," when he was traded to the New York Knicks.

More trade rumors and a deal to the Golden State Warriors followed. Then Don Nelson essentially told Crawford - who is as about right for Don Nelson's "offense" as any whippet-thin shooter that's ever taken a seat on Nellie's bench - that he had no use for him, and to consider opting out of his contract in 2009.

Think about that. Didn't trade him. Didn't work with him. Didn't play him. Just tried to make his life so untenable that Jamal would want to hand back that $20 million last summer, just so Nelson could make up for the mistakes he'd made in the past concerning Golden State's miserable payroll. Which meant Crawford, in his ostensible prime, would receive a needless DNP-CD in 10 of his last 16 games as a Warrior, while Nelson (supposedly charged with running the team) wanted to talk about Jamal's opt-out possibilities more as the season wound down, rather than a new way to beat the Hornets.

A week after 2008-09 ended - that is to say, months after 2008-09 ended for the Warriors - Jamal was traded for Speedy Claxton(notes), and Acie Law IV(notes). Acie went on to play 26 games for three different teams last season. Claxton didn't play a single minute.

Crawford went on to average 18 points in only 31.1 minutes per game with the Hawks. He made 38 percent of his threes, won several games for Atlanta, and was named the Sixth Man Award winner.

Now, before we start to treat Jamal as this league's ultimate martyr, understand that a whole lot of Crawford's 2010-11 run screamed "fluke." Sure, he was acting and playing as he always has, but his success rate at doing what he's always done was way, way higher that it's ever been in his 10-year career. Because the shots go in, and because he's working his way toward those shots in the same way you've seen him try it for a decade, it's hard to notice that these makes seem a bit disproportionate given his past.

So it's more than likely, at age 30 (and hitting 31 in March), that Jamal will slunk back down to earth slightly in 2010-11. The guy's been right around 41 percent shooting (35 percent from deep) his entire career, so for him to make 45 percent and 38 percent last year sends all sorts of warning signals to fans that know that shooting percentages, ahead of just about everything else, are the flukiest stats to behold. Beware the guys that see those numbers jump up for a year. And welcome, with open arms, those who saw their percentages dip unexpectedly the year before. Because they'll bounce back.

Jamal, likely, will bounce, uh, down in 2010-11. But I still think, even making nearly $11 million next season, that he'll be worth trading for. And I think the Hawks, who badly need someone to create shots for other people, need to seek out trying to find a palatable point guard in return for Crawford.

Because even at his typical, very average, rate, Crawford could still help a team looking to go over the top next season. Provided his shots are kept in check on most nights, this guy can really help a team if he's utilized properly, as the Hawks did last season. And even if he comes crashing back to earth beyond what we'd expect (JC returning to the ranks of the average), so what? He's an expiring contract.

If that's me sounding cold and dispassionate, understand that I'm also encouraging Jamal to make his own fortune and seek out a trade. I think there's room for understanding both sides, here.

What we also need to understand is that the Hawks should absolutely not give this guy an extension. For several reasons, spread out all over the things about his game that are a little worrying, and the specter of the impending new labor agreement.

Still a little summer left. Make it work.

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