A Tale of Two Hawks

It was the best of extensions, it was the worst of extensions

The Atlanta Hawks made it clear this summer who they want to stick around to be the centerpiece of their franchise. They signed Joe Johnson to a max contract worth around $120 million over the span of six years. Some thought that a price that high was too much for Johnson after faltering in the playoffs. Rick Sund, the Hawks’ General Manager, thought otherwise and the deal was done. Now that Atlanta has secured a long term deal with their top scorer they must look elsewhere to see who they want to keep on their roster in the coming years.

All summer long, Jamal Crawford has been pushing for an extension with the Hawks. The NBA’s reigning Sixth Man is set to make $10.1 million this season, which will be his eleventh, and would like to ink a long term deal with the team before he becomes eligible for free agency in the summer. However, Sund has been quiet about the whole situation and has yet to offer Crawford a contract extension, let alone even discuss the idea, and will not listen to any trade inquiries concerning Crawford either. The extension that Crawford is hoping for does not appear to be in the cards especially since Sund is not known for granting extensions on veteran contracts.

Because of the stance that the front office has taken, Crawford has said that he will “go elsewhere” if nothing is done to keep him in Atlanta. Going elsewhere, however, is easier said than done since the team is not shopping him. With no extension forthcoming it can be assumed that the Hawks do not have Crawford in their long-term plans. Why should they though? Crawford is entering this season at the age of 30 and will turn 31 in March. An extension, especially one that Crawford would hope for, would be along the lines of a five-year deal. That would mean that he would play into his mid thirties with the Hawks. Generally speaking, this is the time when a player’s performance begins to decline. It is unlikely that Atlanta has any notion of playing Crawford handsomely in the declining years of his career especially when they just gave Johnson a max deal.

Crawford is replaceable and the Hawks know that. The last thing they need to do is offer him the long term extension he wants. If they offer him anything it should be along the lines of a three-year deal around the mid-level exception, nothing more than that. Atlanta needs to prepare for the future and they need money to do so. Mike Bibby is another aging player on their roster that they will need to replace in the coming years, paying Crawford long-term will sap the funds available to continue to build the team and replace veterans with young talent. Planning for the future is exactly what they are doing.

Much to what will certainly be the chagrin of Crawford, Atlanta has entered extension negotiations with Al Horford. Horford is entering his fourth year in the league and the final year of his rookie contract in which he will make $5.4 million. The Hawks have until November 1 to come to terms with Horford on an extension. Under the current CBA rules, his extension could be worth up to $82 million over the course of five years. This would be a deal similar to what Rudy Gay received from Memphis this summer. However, it is uncertain whether the team will offer him the max after the resigning of Johnson and the money involved in that deal. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement by November 1 then the Hawks could only offer a one year extension worth $7.1, by June 30, and would retain the rights to him and therefore be able to match any offer sheet which Horford may sign when he becomes a free agent next summer.

So why are the Hawks so keen on re-upping on Horford and not Crawford? It is the money, stupid. Well, kind of. Age plays a factor too. For now, though, it is the money. While it would be likely that Crawford would not insist on the maximum value on an extension, what he would want certainly would not be cheap. The Eastern Conference seems to be getting better every day and to remain competitive the Hawks need to be financially flexible for the future. An aging jump shooter just is not something at money should be spent on right now especially when there are younger and arguably better players who will become available and fill Crawford’s role in Atlanta. Inking Horford, however, is a no-brainer. He is coming off an All Star season and looks to be headed only up. Although he was no match for Dwight Howard in the playoffs (who really is, though?), Horford is a more than capable big man who has consistently averaged close to a double-double in his three years in the league so far.

For Rick Sund and the Atlanta Hawks, the choice is a no brainer and looks to have been made. There is only room for one “ford” in Atlanta. Keeping Al Horford is a must because of his upside and potential to get even better. Jamal Crawford is expendable. However, the team will gladly keep him around this season despite his less than enthusiastic demeanor in training camp. Why would they move him now anyway? He fills a necessary role on the team. Short-term, Crawford is viable. Long-term, though…well, there is not a long-term anything for Crawford in Atlanta and he should prepare to “go elsewhere” come next summer.

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Filed under NBA at Large, Players

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