Seattle Hoops: Crawford's goal remains postseason
By GARY WASHBURN
HE LOOKS NO different than he did 10 years ago, same wiry frame, same ability to score at will, same desire to win. Jamal Crawford will be 29 in two months, still striving to play in his first NBA postseason game in nine seasons.
The former Rainier Beach High School star remains one of the best high school players in the city's history. And he shows flashes of that brilliance at the highest level, dropping 50 for the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 20 at Charlotte, just a month after being acquired from the New York Knicks.
Crawford liked New York. He became a favorite of the media because of his engaging personality and desire to stand up and comment in every situation. He became the voice of reason in constantly chaotic times in Manhattan, whether it was a coach facing sexual harassment charges or following another disheartening loss or a teammate who refused to check into a game.
Through all the drama, Crawford wanted to remain in New York and see through the various rebuilding projects. But on Nov. 21 he became part of the ever-changing Knicks landscape when he was traded to the Warriors for Al Harrington, and Crawford moved from one rebuilding project to another.
He has taken change in stride, eager for players such as Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette to get healthy so perhaps the Warriors could make a late run at the final playoff spot -- though that is unlikely. Crawford is happy with his new surroundings.
"It's going well," he said this week. "I was shocked to say the least when the trade first happened, especially when we got off to our best start in 10 seasons. Things were going well. I was averaging 20 points. I thought things were good. I was definitely shocked, but I was excited about the opportunity to be closer to home, the way Coach (Don) Nelson coaches and his system, I was excited to be a part of it."
Crawford was indeed putting up All-Star caliber numbers in New York. He was flourishing under new coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense, which appeared to fit him perfectly. But D'Antoni wanted another athletic big man and Harrington wanted out of Golden State, and Crawford found out about the deal after a shootaround in Milwaukee.
"I was caught off guard because my name had never been out there like other people's names," he said. "I was the last person to expect to get traded like that. I had been in New York so long, through the tough times. I definitely wanted to be there when it got good again."
Say what you want about Crawford and his game, but he is a chameleon, with the ability to adapt to any situation. I was in New York last season when Knicks fans were calling for Isiah Thomas' firing at home games, and Crawford was one of the few players who didn't attempt to blow past the media at practices. Thomas brought him to New York to pursue stardom, and he wanted to see that come to fruition.
That's still entirely possible, but it will happen in the laid-back Bay Area. Crawford said the best thing about the West Coast is being able to dart to Jack-in-the-Box on late nights. The simple things make him happy.
Nelson's shoot-first and shoot-again offense seems to fit Crawford's game perfectly. He has been accused of falling in love with jumpers, launching them at every opportunity, even when he was hopelessly missing, but that won't be a problem with Nelson. The Warriors love to run, and Crawford is one of the league's best scorers when that jumper is flowing.
"It's just getting up and down the court and making quick decisions, and Coach Nelson trusts his players a lot," Crawford said. "They are going to make the right call and do the right thing, pass up a good shot for a great shot and attack the defense. I'm still adjusting, especially me playing point guard. You'll see big scoring games like a 50 or 40 game for me. You'll also see games from me where I will take six or seven shots to try to get everybody involved."
There is talent in Golden State. Ellis is probably a month away from returning from an ankle injury. Maggette is just returning from a torn hamstring, while Stephen Jackson had battled ailments all season. Add to that Andris Biedrins, youngsters Brandan Wright, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow, and the Warriors have a foundation.
Yet it could be a while. The Warriors fell to 10-27 after losing to the Lakers on Wednesday and are 11 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot. Crawford is in the NBA basement again, hoping to reach the penthouse before he becomes a graybeard.
"It's definitely tough and it tests your patience for sure," he said. "But it's easy to walk away and give up and say 'I'm just going to go to a team that's already been there before, at least I can say I am on a winner now.' But it's a bigger challenge to say 'I think it can be more gratifying if you can turn something around that's not expected to do anything.' I think there's more satisfaction in that."
Crawford will have an important career decision this summer, whether to opt out of the final two years of his contract, totaling nearly $20 million, in favor of free agency.
"When you have something like that, that doesn't mean you jump ship, it means you can still use the opt-out clause and re-sign, but there's different options," he said. "My first and second choice is to be here. They traded for me, and I think they really believe in me. When they traded for me it was for the long term, it wasn't just for the rest of the season."
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