Jamal Crawford heading to Atlanta?

Marc Stein’s sources say that he is.

NBA front-office sources say that the Warriors and Hawks will soon complete a deal sending Crawford to Atlanta for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton.

Warriors coach Don Nelson made no secret of the fact that Crawford wasn’t in his future plans. By shedding Crawford’s longer contract and by virtue of insurance payments that will cover some of the costs of Claxton, Golden State would secure a decent measure of payroll relief with the trade.

Crawford is definitely a shoot-first point guard, as evidenced by this study I did a few weeks ago, though I think he’s better suited to playing off the ball. His shot selection is suspect (career 40.4% from the field), but he is a prolific scorer. In fact, he has averaged at least 17 points in each of the last four seasons, but he regularly takes 15-17 shots per game. Is it possible to get him to rein in his attempts and be a little more selective in his attempts? I’d rather he average 14-15 points on 10-11 shots.

How does this affect Mike Bibby’s contract negotiations? Acie Law wasn’t working out, but now that Crawford is on the roster, the Hawks have a backup plan in case Bibby’s expectations are too high. Bibby takes better care of the ball, but he’s a shoot-first point guard as well, so a reined-in Crawford wouldn’t be that much different.

Crawford’s contract runs another two years at the tune of $19 million, so while the fiscal impact for the Hawks in the short term is minor, they are giving up about $10 million in projected cap space in 2010 by making this trade.

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Don Nelson is playing mind games with Jamal Crawford

After the season, Jamal Crawford can opt out of the final two years of his contract. Those two years would pay him $19.5 million, so given the current state of the economy and the coming “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents, it’s highly unlikely that he’d be able to find that kind of money in the open market. But Tim Kawakami says that Golden State head coach Don Nelson is pushing the guard to opt out.

I’ve heard that when Nelson explained Crawford’s recent one-game benching, he spoke about getting the younger players more time, etc, etc.

But Nelson also told Crawford that he was doing the complete benching in order to help Crawford’s per-game averages, all the better for when (or if) Crawford opts-out, which Nelson very much wants him to do this summer.

That is a loud and clear NBA message, by the way. By even mentioning the opt-out (Crawford can erase the final two years and $19M+ on his deal), Nelson was indicating to Crawford that Nelson wanted him to opt-out.

Even more, Nelson was suggesting that Crawford HAD BETTER OPT-OUT or else Nelson would probably make sure that the situation next year isn’t to Crawford’s liking.

My understanding is that Crawford’s reaction was the same as any proud player’s reaction: Why in the world should I be pushed into a decision like that?

Nelson is trying to shove Crawford into opting out, and therefore messing up Crawford’s marketability, which, in the end, probably will drive Crawford NOT to opt out this summer.

I repeat: What in the world is Nelson doing? If you guess that he’s trying to make things as messy as possible, either to shake up the Warriors or to make his firing (with TWO YEARS and $12M left on the deal after this season) as inevitable and quick as possible…

Exactly. Given Nelson’s actions, it only makes it more likely that Crawford would stand his ground and choose to play out the final two years of his contract. The only way I can see an opt out in this scenario is if the situation in Golden State is so bad that Crawford decides it’s not worth the money to stay. Nelson would be better off trying to work with Crawford, but it seems like the two are past that point. The guy is averaging 19.6 points and 4.4 assists per game — it’s not like his contract is dead money. Sure, he has never been known as a good defender and he’s not an efficient scorer (41% FG%), but that shouldn’t be a surprise to the Warriors. Crawford has been in the league for eight years — what did they expect? (And since when did Nelson put a lot of stock in defense?)

One of the things I’d like to see in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is non-guaranteed contracts. Teams should be able to cut a player if they are underperforming, injured or if the relationship has just run its course. As a consequence, the team would have to pay 50% of the player’s salary for the remainder of the contract. If the player is picked up on waivers, his new team would pay the other 50%, essentially getting him at half price. If he clears waivers, he becomes a free agent and would be able to sign with whomever he likes. This system would reduce the number of dead contracts around the league (which would make management happy) and allow for more player movement in bad situations like Crawford’s (which would make the players happy) while still allowing for some security if a player is injured or his game disappears. This, combined with shorter contracts — three years when a player signs with a new team, four years when he re-signs with his current team — would make it a lot tougher for bad general managers to get their teams into salary cap hell. (I’m looking at you, Ernie Grunfeld.)

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