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ATLANTA — Jamal Crawford is one of the best sixth men in NBA history.
However, last Saturday night he was dressed in street clothes. After the game, he didn’t even need to shower. The Suns had just lost their 17th game in a row, falling to the Atlanta Hawks, a game where they did not even use their 19-year veteran. Even though he was not a participant, he was still candid and happy to speak. Being in the NBA for so long has put miles of wear and tear on his body, but not changed the high-character demeanor of which he always carries.
This was also the city where he started to become more than just a good scorer on bad teams. For the first time, he was a contributor in winning at the NBA level. He found a role in the Hawks’ offense as a superior sixth man, averaging 18.0 points per game in his first season with the Hawks in 2009-10. They won 53 games that season, beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated in the second round by the Orlando Magic. Crawford also won the NBA Sixth Man of The Year Award for the first time, something he’s accomplished twice since, in 2014 and 2016. He was also voted NBA Teammate of the Year last season.
“It’s always fun seeing familiar faces, obviously,” Crawford told Amico Hoops after the Suns lost to the Hawks. “It was a while ago, but some of the same faces still work in the arena, so seeing them once or twice a year is always cool.”
Crawford, 38, was the eighth overall pick in the 2000 draft out of the University of Michigan by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He agrees Atlanta was really the place he became a winner in the NBA.
“It was great it really was,” he said. “We had a great team… exciting team. The city really took to it. Every game was fun and we all enjoyed playing together.”
Crawford carries career averages of 14.7 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 29.5 minutes in 1,313 games (433 starts), shooting 41.0 percent from the floor, 34.7 percent from three and 86.2 percent from the free-throw line.
His NBA stops began with Chicago, to which he was traded on draft night 2000 by Cleveland for center Chris Mihm, New York, Golden State, Atlanta, Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota before landing in Phoenix this season, signing a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum of $2.4 million on Oct. 16.
His days of scoring 15-plus points per game are in the past, but his impact can still be felt in the mentoring of the young Suns. While the Seattle-born Crawford said he wouldn’t want to coach in the NBA, he’s thoroughly enjoyed being a leader even off the court.
“Nah, I wouldn’t want to coach NBA,” he said. “I coach high school, though.
”I enjoy it. Seeing guys go forward in their careers. They’re just kind of starting their journey, and that’s what’s exciting about it. To see somebody go from point A to point C is sometimes more exciting than you going to point C.”
After turning down a player option with the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer, not many teams were lining up to sign one of the most popular players in the NBA. Instead, he had to sign with the Suns just days before the season started.
Crawford is averaging 6.5 points in 17.6 minutes in 51 games, all off the bench, for the Suns this season, the lowest production of his 19-year NBA career since his rookie campaign of 2000-01 (4.6 ppg).
He is shooting 37.1 percent from the floor, 29.6 percent from deep and 82.7 percent from the free-throw line.
However, he still plans to play next season, which would make it two decades as an NBA player, with career earnings of more than $120 million.
“I’ll be playing,” he said with a smile when asked about next season.