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Hawks: Crawford accepts backup role

POSTED: September 28, 2009 11:55 p.m.

ATLANTA — Jamal Crawford, a starter through most of his nine years in the NBA, says he’s ready for a new role as a backup with the Atlanta Hawks.

Crawford averaged 19.7 points with the New York Knicks and Golden State last season. The 29-year-old Crawford has started each of his 145 games the last two seasons, but with Atlanta he’s expected to find minutes behind established starters Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby in the Hawks’ backcourt.

Crawford insists he’s not worried about his playing time as the Hawks prepare to open training camp today. It helps that he’s comfortable at point guard and shooting guard.

"I think there will be plenty of minutes," he said Monday. "I think we’ll all play off each other and help each other. We’re all veterans who have been in the game for a while now, so we understand what we need to win. We’re all pulling for each other."

The Hawks have been known for their youth through their five-year rise from a 13-win team to the second round of the playoffs last season.

Crawford replaces Flip Murray in the role of the team’s high-scoring backup guard. Murray signed with the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday.

It’s a new role for Crawford, who has 393 career starts and has averaged at least 32 minutes per game for each of the last six seasons.

He scored 50 points for Golden State at Charlotte last season to join Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Bernard King as the only players in NBA history to score 50 or more points in games for three different teams. Crawford also had 50-point games with Chicago and New York.

He averaged a career-high 20.6 points for the Knicks in the 2006-07 season.

Crawford’s new teammates say he’ll earn his minutes.

"Jamal fits in anywhere," said forward Marvin Williams. "At the end of the day, he can play basketball. He has proven that."

Johnson, who made his third straight All-Star team last season, doesn’t like coming out of games. He averaged almost 40 minutes per game last year, and Bibby played almost 35 minutes per game.

So how will coach Mike Woodson find playing time for Crawford, especially as he also adds first-round pick Jeff Teague to the mix at point guard?

"He shouldn’t have any problem," Woodson said. "He can score. That just adds another dimension to our ballclub."

Teague may be seen as the point guard of the future, but Crawford is a veteran capable of taking over for Bibby or Johnson this year.

"Jamal is such a great scorer and he passes the ball well," said center Al Horford. "I’m excited we’re able to have him here because he’s going to be able to create and take some pressure off Joe."

Added Bibby: "I think Jamal will be good for us. He’s the kind of guy who can create his own shots and create shots for other people, too. We need another person to bring the ball up the court so I don’t have to handle it every time or Joe doesn’t have to handle it every time."

Woodson could experiment with a three-guard lineup, with the 6-foot-7 Johnson playing forward in some situations. But that would leave the Hawks with a small lineup.

Woodson said finding time for the 6-foot-5 Crawford and the other newcomers "is a good problem to have."

"Only camp will determine a lot of that," Woodson said.

"I’ve got to figure out a lot of that. When you start adding more depth to your ballclub, it takes a little time to figure out. You need to evaluate guys and get the new guys acclimated to your system."

The Hawks acquired Crawford from the Warriors only hours before the NBA draft for guards Acie Law and Speedy Claxton.

Crawford had his differences with Golden State coach Don Nelson, who indicated to Crawford last season that he wasn’t in the team’s future plans. Nelson sat Crawford for a game against Charlotte on Feb. 27 and benched Crawford twice in one week during March.

Crawford was ready for a move. He smiled on Monday as he looked at his new teammates.

"Wherever coach wants me to play, I’ll play," he said. "That’s not a problem at all. We have a lot of options. That’s something that is exciting for me and for the ballclub."



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