Jamal Crawford doesn't look like a team leader. Baby-faced and prone to tugging on his jersey with his thumbs while he talks as if he were wearing suspenders, the 23-year-old Chicago guard looks as if he just got out of college. Which, of course, he would have, had he stayed at Michigan and not left after his freshman year to join the NBA in 2000. Now, after three seasons in Chicago, he's in the peculiar position of being one of two Bulls with the longest continuous tenure, yet he's only a year older than Kirk Hinrich, the team's first-round draft pick out of Kansas.
Nevertheless, the Bulls' coaches and fans are fully expecting Crawford to lead the team's long-awaited resurgence this season. "We're counting on a lot from him," says coach Bill Cartwright. "Maybe even more so because he played so well at the end of last year. Now, though, we want him to create for others as well as for himself."
Crawford played at nearly an All-Star level down the stretch last season, averaging 23.0 points and 6.4 assists in the final eight games. But now the pressure to produce is greater because the team's 2002 first-round draft pick, Jay Williams, is sidelined indefinitely after a motorcycle accident and because Crawford's backup, Hinrich, is a rookie. "I've been working on making things easier for my teammates," says Crawford. "Finding out where they like the ball and focusing on being a creator." Quizzed on where swingman Jalen Rose likes the ball, he responds, "Up high. Right above his belly button." Center Eddy Curry? "Anywhere in the air." On forward Tyson Chandler, however, Crawford stumbles, saying, "I guess I throw it in the air a bit."
It's early in training camp, so Crawford can be let off the hook. But if the Bulls are to make the playoffs this year, he'll have to do his homework.