With so much uncertainty surrounding the Celtics roster entering the offseason it’s hard to say exactly what Jae Crowder’s future with the team might be. As of right now the 26-year-old has three years remaining on the five-year, $35 million deal he signed in July of 2015, so losing him to the free agent market isn’t the issue. But Boston will have no shortage of trade options this summer and its entirely possible Crowder could be a key piece going out in any potential deals.
That being said, Crowder has sort of been a non-starter in trade talks in the past. David Aldridge of NBA.com reported in February that Danny Ainge did “not want to give up Jae Crowder” in any package that would bring Jimmy Butler to Boston.
“I think it really comes down to Crowder,” Aldridge said. “In terms of real, tangible players, I think Danny would like to go into the playoffs with (Marcus) Smart, (Avery) Bradley (and) Crowder defensively along with Butler, (Al) Horford (and Isaiah) Thomas offensively. I think he feels like that’s the only way they’re going to compete, or be able to compete, with a team like Cleveland. And Chicago, I think rightly, is saying, ‘Look, if you want our best player we’re not going to just do it for picks. We’re not going to just take guys that you’re not going to keep on your roster. We want a guy that’s going to be able to grow with us along with one of those high picks.’”
Hanging on to Crowder would seem to go against the Celtics’ vision of acquiring stars. Butler has slowly developed into a perennial All-Star over the last three years and is clearly the better player between himself and his former Marquette teammate.
Boston has eyes for Gordon Hayward on the free agent market this summer, though, and it’ll have just as good a chance as any to lure him away from the Utah Jazz. While it would be nice to have both Hayward and Butler, hanging on to Crowder prevents the Celtics from having to do cap gymnastics in order to make that happen, not to mention the fact it would most likely force the team to gut their bench, sacrificing depth all the while.
Signing Hayward and keeping Crowder would give the Celtics a wide range of options. The two could co-exist in the starting lineup, with Hayward at the 3 and Crowder at either the 2 or 4 depending on what happens with Avery Bradley and Amir Johnson. Brad Stevens could also decide to move Crowder to the bench in favor of Hayward, using the former in a sixth or seventh man role a la James Posey on the 2008 title team.
Posey provided the Celtics with lockdown defense on the perimeter and shot an above-average clip from beyond the arc during both the regular season and the playoffs that year—38 and 39.8%, respectively. His versatility allowed him to guard anyone from Josh Smith to LeBron James, and Rip Hamilton to Kobe Bryant during that postseason run, and Crowder has shown he’s capable of proving some of the same.
What’s unique about Crowder’s situation is his trade value isn’t going anywhere over the next couple of months. If the Celtics aren’t able to get Hayward they’ll still be able to revisit talks for Butler and maybe even the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George, depending on whether or not he commits to the Celtics long-term. And they can still do all that while making the No. 1 overall pick come June, considering they have a war chest of other picks they can attach in a Crowder trade.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what Boston does with Crowder. It’s clear they value him immensely and he’s been an important part of what the Celtics have been building over the past couple of years. The later summer months can’t come soon enough.