ATLANTA — Jamal Crawford already got what he wanted most — a trip to the playoffs.
On Tuesday, he picked up an extra reward for his unselfishness.
After willingly accepting a backup role for the first time in his career, the Atlanta Hawks guard was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in a landslide.
"You have to check your ego at the door," the 30-year-old Crawford said. "It's all about winning. You do what you've got to do."
He had never been on a winning team until he was traded to Atlanta by Golden State last summer. Of course, the deal came with a caveat: The Hawks wanted Crawford to come off the bench, which was quite a change for someone who had been starting his whole life, from youth leagues to the NBA.
Hawks general manager Rick Sund flew to Crawford's hometown of Seattle after the deal was made and pulled no punches about the planned role.
"I went right for the jugular," Sund recalled. "I told him there was an opportunity here to have tremendous notoriety coming off the bench. I told him if we were going to take this to the next level, be a championship-caliber team, we needed someone to really make an impact off the bench."
Crawford did just that. He averaged 18 points a game in 31.1 minutes, a de facto starter who played a major role in Atlanta winning 53 games and earning the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Hawks are tied 2-2 with Milwaukee in the opening round heading into Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Advancing in the playoffs is Crawford's main goal, though he certainly didn't mind picking up some extra hardware during an off day in the series.
"We're doing some good things here," he said. "It's not complete yet."
Crawford won the award going away with 580 of a possible 610 points, including 110 out of 122 first-place votes. Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks, last year's Sixth Man winner, finished second this time with 220 points. Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers (126 points) was third.
Until this season, Crawford was known mainly for being a talented player who always wound up on awful teams. Only two other players in NBA history had played more games than Crawford without making the playoffs until he finally broke through in his 10th season.
He didn't come close to the postseason during stops in Chicago, New York and Golden State — a run of futility that made him eager to accept whatever role was offered, as long as it gave him a shot at the playoffs.
The Hawks are a team that's been steadily on the rise since a 13-69 debacle six years ago. They have improved their win total each of the last five seasons, assembling a solid starting five led by Joe Johnson and supported by Josh Smith, Al Horford, Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams.
After reaching the second round of the playoffs last season, Sund knew the team needed a go-to player off the bench. Golden State was looking to get younger and shed salary, so all it took to get Crawford were two little-used guards, Acie Law and Speedy Claxton.
Crawford was even more valuable since he can play both point and shooting guard, giving the Hawks some flexibility in the backcourt.
"He embraced it, but more importantly the team has embraced it," Sund said. "You have to give a lot of credit to Bibby. Mike Bibby has been one of Jamal's biggest fans. Marvin has been a big fan. They all kind of share who's going to be out there. It doesn't work if the chemistry isn't good, and chemistry becomes good if they really embrace each other with their basketball abilities."
Crawford got off to a slow start — "I didn't want to step on anyone's toes," he said — but he wound up ranking second on the team in scoring even though he never started a game.
He was usually on the court at the end of the game.
"I told Jamal that everyone can't start on this team," coach Mike Woodson said. "But it doesn't matter who starts — it's who finishes."