When the Celtics first acquired Jae Crowder, he was considered to be the throw-in fodder that was used to help facilitate the trade of Rajon Rondo for Brandon Wright, Jameer Nelson, and a 1st-round draft pick.
Oh, how times have changed.
Crowder is now the only player involved in that deal (other than Dwight Powell) who figures to continue to play for the team that they were sent to. Jameer Nelson now plays for the Nuggets, Brandan Wright suits up for the Suns, and Rajon Rondo has been unceremoniously dumped by the Mavericks, after failing to improve their play and butting heads with their coach.
In the midst of the chaos, the man they call Joe Chowder stands untarnished, facing a bright future with the up-and-coming Boston Celtics.
In a recent press conference, Danny Ainge remarked on Crowder's future with the team.
"I can emphatically say we will qualify Jae, which I think is pretty obvious".
He is, of course, referring to the $1.2 million qualifying offer that the Celtics will be extending to Crowder. Because Crowder is a restricted free agent after this season, the Celtics will have the right to match any offer that another team makes to sign him during this year's free agency.
The Celtics would be very smart to do so. In Crowder, they have a jack-of-all trades player who can effectively guard either forward spot. He was even able to pester Al Jefferson at the 5 in one game earlier this year. He held opposing power forwards to a pedestrian 15.3 PER, and opposing small forwards to a PER of 11.3, which is well below the league average. Additionally, and even more importantly, he is an instigator.
It is common knowledge that the great Red Auerbach loved players that were what he called "instigators", who frustrated opponents with their tenacious and physical play. Modern Celtics fans are no different, and quickly latch on to players who play with a little bit of a snarl. This year's playoff series against Cleveland clearly solidified Crowder's status as a ballplayer that Auerbach would have loved. When the Cavs retaliated after Kevin Love's injury, Crowder was the almost sole recipient of their attacks. This, combined with his statistically sound defense, shows that he is a player that opposing forwards hate going up against.
That is the role that Crowder played this season. He was a physical defender and instigator, who did a little bit of everything on offense. In 24 minutes per game, the forward averaged 9.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and a steal. While his shooting percentages were definitely below average (41.8 FG% and 28.2 3P%), he was able to get to the line 2.3 times per game and convert there at a clip of 76.2%. There wasn't an area of the game that he didn't impact in some way, and he was able to do all of it while almost always playing inside himself.
He kept the ball moving, was opportunistic, worked hard, and posted a positive net rating (+4). Those are the sorts of guys that you want to keep around, particularly if you're a rebuilding squad like the Celtics.
Moving forward, Crowder is a valuable asset for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens. He has said that he wants to remain in Boston, and Boston certainly wants to keep him, so it seems likely that they will match most offers that other teams might extend to him. The problem with Crowder is that, while valuable, he hasn't proven that he could be the starting small forward of the next several years for the Celtics. They need a wing that can score, given the complexion of the rest of the core that they are assembling, and so far Crowder hasn't demonstrated that he can do that consistently or in sufficient volume. Instead, he seems destined to be a super-sub, and a defensive ace. Being able to bring him off the bench along with Isaiah Thomas would allow the Celtics to feast on opposing second units.
This projection brings into question the amount of money that Boston will be able to commit to him with this next contract. They are still in a rebuild, and need to make sure that they don't overpay; any mistake at this stage, either in terms of personnel or finances, could prove devastating.
Of course, Jae is still young. He's only 24 years old, so he may very well continue to develop offensively, and become a legitimate starting-caliber 3 on a playoff team. That might be one of the biggest benefits of signing him to a multiple-year deal this off-season; he still has both room and time to grow.
In addition to the draft picks he has stockpiled, Danny Ainge has started to assemble a large number of high-quality young players. This offseason, his first order of business should be to ensure that the man they call Joe Chowder will continue to count himself among the young guns of Beantown.
All stats from 82games.com and basketball-reference.com