An unsatisfying offseason has the potential to turn unsavory. In the same summer the Hawks made Joe Johnson the priciest free-agent signing and Larry Drew the cheapest head-coaching hire, they must now deal with Jamal Crawford. This isn’t what any doctor — from Dr. J to Dr. Jack Ramsey — would have ordered.
According to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Crawford and his agent are expected to meet with general manager Rick Sund this week. Crawford is thought to want one of two things: To sign a contract extension before the new season commences or to be traded forthwith. Given that his was the happiest Hawks story of a season that ended unhappily, Crawford must be taken seriously. Given that these are the Hawks, who are so cheap they haven’t yet fleshed out their roster, he shouldn’t hold his breath.
Yes, cheap. Even after sinking $120 million into Joe Johnson, the Hawks keep giving us reason to doubt their long-avowed Commitment To Excellence. They could have hired an established NBA head coach to replace Mike Woodson and wound up promoting Drew, who’d been Woodson’s assistant all along. They could have spent significant money to find another big man, and instead they’ve attempted to make do with Josh Powell and another episode of the Jason Collins Saga. (For late tuners-in, Collins was on the Hawks’ roster all last season, though not so you noticed.)
It’s unclear what Crawford really thinks is apt to happen if he does deliver a pay-me-more-or-trade-me-now demand. Because the Hawks aren’t apt to pay anyone more. Public statements notwithstanding, the Atlanta Spirit seems uninterested in paying one in-the-red cent of luxury tax. Beyond that, there’s a more pressing matter: What to do with Al Horford, who means even more to this franchise?
Horford can become a restricted free agent at season’s end. The Hawks would prefer he not test the market because they know full well he’d be coveted from sea to shining sea. If any Hawk is apt to receive a contract extension before Halloween, it’s Horfy. There’s almost no chance two Hawks will be offered preseason extensions at this late date.
So, if Sund doesn’t hand Crawford a new contract, what does the GM do? Trade him? Even though any attempt to shed a disgruntled player creates a buyer’s market? Even though the Hawks would be pressed to get anything comparable to Crawford in return? Even though the strength of this team headed into 2010-11 figured to be its continuity?
On the other hand … do you want a disgruntled player in a locker room not overrun with vocal leaders? (Horford is the Hawk most apt to speak, and if he chooses not to accept an extension he’ll be facing contractual issues of his own.) The issue of Johnson’s impending free agency became a major story last season, and Crawford is 10 times more talkative than J.J.
Yes, the Hawks did draft a shooting guard in Jordan Crawford, but 26 players were taken ahead of him and there’s no assurance he’s not the 21st Century Roy Marble. This rookie cannot be seen as rotation-ready, meaning the Hawks can’t just trade one J. Crawford and hand his workload — the NBA’s sixth man of the year averaged 31 minutes a night — to another J. Crawford.
There was a time when the Hawks seemed a rousing success story: A team of young guys growing up together and learning to win. What we’re seeing is that NBA success carries a higher and higher price. A franchise cannot hold its core together for years on end without paying dearly, and paying dearly essentially means overpaying. The Hawks overpaid Johnson because they had no real alternative: To lose him would have meant losing much of the credibility they’ve spent the past decade trying to re-establish.
The price for credibility, alas, was flexibility. The Hawks have almost none. To give Jamal Crawford what he wants would be throwing more big money at a shooting guard already past 30 in the same offseason that has seen them lavish a six-year contract on a 29-year-old who plays the same position. To trade Crawford would be to weaken the team he helped lift from 47 victories to 53. There might be a happy ending to this latest Hawks tempest, but I’ll be darned if I see it.