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Countdown to camp: For Crowder, only way to go is up

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Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s one of the oldest sayings in existence. And while most people associate the phrase with love or some sort of relationship, it can also pertain to player movement in the NBA.

You don’t know what you have ‘til it’s gone.

Think back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when the Celtics traded Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson after just 51 and 48 games, respectively. Those two went on to become perennial All-Stars. Yet, at the time, they were just two players Boston believed were expendable.

Things like this happen all the time in this league. But rarely is it the team receiving the All-Star in exchange for spare parts the one left feeling silly.

Such is life for Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks, though, who last December sent Jae Crowder—among others—to Boston in return for Rajon Rondo.

The Mavs believed they had landed the final piece to their championship puzzle. But where Rondo fizzled, Crowder thrived, averaging 9.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and a steal in just 24.2 minutes per game following the trade.

Crowder’s impact went beyond the score, though. He almost instantly became the leader of that Celtics team, something he knew a lot about during his years at Marquette.

Now, Crowder will enter his second year with Boston with a 5-year, $35 million contract in his back pocket and a postseason appearance to build on.

Expectations are bound to be higher this time around, both for the Celtics and Crowder on an individual level. For as good as he was at times, Crowder struggled shooting the three in his 57 games as a Celtic, connecting on just 28.2 percent of his looks.

Becoming more efficient from beyond the arc and truly entering the realm of three-and-D wings will ultimately help his case for a role as a full-time starter.

He’ll also need to work towards finding that delicate balance of scoring and getting his teammates involved. Crowder is capable of scoring more than 9.5 points a night. And he’ll have to for the team to take that next step forward. But without a true pass-first point guard on the roster, the Celtics turn to Evan Turner to create for others.

Having Crowder serve as another playmaker would make him that much more versatile, potentially making him a very tough cover for guys guarding him at the 2, 3 and 4 spots.

Brad Stevens should have no problem developing these skills in Crowder’s game. He’s already got the type of tenacity and aggressiveness you can’t teach on the defensive end. All that’s left is turning him into a consistent offensive threat, whether off the bounce as a scorer and playmaker or as a spot-up shooter.

The ceiling on Crowder is much higher than people realize and we should start to see more of it throughout training camp and beyond. Will he ever be an All-Star? Probably not. But he’s the type of glue guy that every contending team needs. And even if the Celtics aren’t ready to challenge for a title just yet, it’s good to have Crowder already in place.

While the Mavs wonder what could have been, the Celtics will be reaping the benefits of having the dreadlocked forward on their side.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.