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Jae Crowder and his relationship with Celtics fans

Crowder has said a few things that have distanced some fans from him and he’s used that discontent to fuel his own thin-skinned motivational fire. But like him or not, he’s a big part of the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics.

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NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jae Crowder has once again gotten into it with Twitter haters—this time about his minutes next season. The Celtics forward never hesitates to clap back at people disrespecting him.

Crowder’s relationship with some (not all) Celtics fans is one of the few blemishes on what has been, for the most part, a love affair between him and the city of Boston. He’s brought a blue collar attitude to the franchise that doesn’t go unnoticed, but he’s ruffled some feathers along the way.

Last season, Crowder heard fans cheering for Gordon Hayward at TD Garden when the Utah Jazz were going through their introductions. It’s difficult to know how true this is, but this illustrates the tension between Boston and the Marquette product; the slightest slight can irk JC and subsequently, start an unnecessary social media flame war.

Fast forward seven months. When the Celtics signed Hayward this summer, Danny Ainge needed to trade Crowder, Avery Bradley, or Marcus Smart in order to offer Hayward a full max contract. Bradley, the longest tenured Celtic and a fan favorite, was eventually dealt to Detroit for Marcus Morris, but a lot of people were eager to see Crowder go. Despite Ainge coming out and reinforcing that “Jae is a big part of what we’re doing,” a loud minority felt that the oft disgruntled Crowder was redundant after signing Hayward and drafting Jayson Tatum.

In Crowder’s defense, he’s been an important player during the rebuild. He’s a versatile defender, has a pretty shooting stroke, and made 40% of his threes last season. Crowder is a prototypical 3-and-D wing that allows the Celtics to play small ball lineups with Crowder at the 4.

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

On top of all of that, Crowder is one of the NBA’s biggest bargains. He’ll make $7 million on average until the summer of 2020, where players with Crowder’s skill set at the age of 27 would probably make around $12-18 million on the open market.

For a team that is headed toward luxury tax territory, Crowder’s an invaluable role player and yet, some have questioned #99. Here are some possible reasons:

Master of None

Crowder is solid, but he’s not necessarily elite in any specific area. He isn’t the playmaker and scorer that Isaiah Thomas is, he’s not the perimeter defensive specialist that Bradley is, and he isn’t a freak athlete with high upside like Jaylen Brown. Crowder isn’t necessarily a marketable player or a SportsCenter commodity, but he’s been a consistent contributor on a winning team. For lack of a better description, he’s a Brad Stevens’ type of player.

It takes more context to truly understand Crowder’s impact with the Celtics. For example, examines the value a player adds on both ends of the floor specific to play type. Comparing the 2015-16 season to 2016-17, Crowder dramatically increased the value he added on offense in spot ups and off cuts, two crucial elements to Brad Stevens’ pace-and-space motion offense.

On defense, he improved in almost every area too, including guarding isolation, pick and roll ball handlers and roll men, and in post up situations.

He isn’t elite in any particular area, but over the course of an entire game of around a hundred possessions, he’ll make more good plays than mistakes. As fans, it’s easy to get infatuated with that late game possession where Bradley locks up Kyrie Irving one-on-one or Jaylen throws down a tomahawk in a blowout. Crowder doesn’t give you a lot of those moments, but his body of work can’t be measured in a highlight or 140 characters.

Shot Selection

Last season, Crowder had a career year shooting the ball. A near 40% three-point clip is exactly what the Celtics need from him as he spaces the floor for players like Thomas, Horford, and now Hayward, but—and this is arguably nitpicking—there is still something left to be desired.

Despite career high shooting percentages, Crowder’s scoring totals have stagnated over the last two years (14.2 ppg in ‘15-’16 to 13.9 ppg in ‘16-’17). Despite being built like a linebacker, Crowder tends to float around the perimeter. Some of that is by design to create space for his teammates, but Crowder still only averaged 1.3 drives per game last season, which is 8th most on the Celtics. The only players that drove to the basket less than Crowder with consistent playing time were Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko, and Amir Johnson.

Crowder is a 6’6, 235 pound forward. He’s a physical beast that refuses to go inside. It would be like Gronk if Gronk never went over the middle and punished would-be tacklers. Driving more could really help open up Crowder’s game and the Celtics offense, but Stevens seems to have a specific game plan for using him on the offensive end. Since the Celtics’ offensive rating when Crowder was on the court was a 115.5 as opposed to a 106.2 when off, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Fan friction

After the Hayward incident, Crowder deleted a tweet that said he had “NO PROBLEM” leaving Boston. That’s Crowder’s style: raw emotion in ALL CAPS. It’s fair to say that that attitude rubbed some fans the wrong way. In another city, we might have never heard about it, but Boston is a little different.

Crowder apologized almost immediately for his Twitter rant, but like Crowder, there’s a minority of haters that hold it against him and whenever a trade rumor for a bigger star surfaces, they’re happy to throw him under the bus. Ainge and the Celtics have been in the market for a superstar player since dismantling the Big Three and over the course of their rebuild, Boston has been in numerous trade discussions for disgruntled star players with Crowder in the center of many of those negotiations. His HoopsHype rumor page gives you a good idea of how many trades Crowder has been connected to.

Before this year’s NBA Draft, the Celtics reportedly had a plan to sign Hayward and then trade for Paul George, forming the NBA’s newest superteam. Crowder was reportedly in a package for George, but Indiana didn’t take Boston’s offer in favor of the Oklahoma City Thunder. This wasn’t the first time Crowder had been involved in discussions for a star player.

Around the time of last season’s trade deadline, the Bulls and Celtics were discussing a deal that would send Butler to Boston. According to reports, the possible inclusion of Crowder was one of the “sticking points.” The Bulls felt that they needed him to complete the trade, but the Celtics weren’t willing to give Crowder up. Boston never ended up trading for Butler at the deadline or before the draft and he ended up getting shipped to Minnesota.

Crowder is a very good player, but he’s not at a superstar level yet. Understandably, frustration can fester if a team doesn’t part ways with a player of Crowder’s current caliber for All-Stars like Butler and George, and Crowder doesn’t help himself whenever he takes to Twitter to vent his own frustration. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle that snowballed.

It’s important to note that while the NBA is a star-driven league, the Celtics have refused to give Crowder up for one so far. Ainge has held onto him throughout so many trade discussions that it is evident that the franchise loves Crowder. That doesn’t mean he won’t be included in the next round of rumors or even an eventual deal, but if the Celtics support a player, then who are we to not do the same?

After a recent spat with fans on Twitter regarding his playing time and possible future with the team, Crowder reminded us all that he uses those types of interactions as motivation:

Crowder said he “felt disrespected” after the Hayward incident, but that it also “lit a fire” under him. Crowder finished that game with 21 points, making five of six threes and posting a +22 while on the floor in a Celtics win. The disrespect he felt certainly gave him extra juice for that game. We’ve seen this self-motivation from JC before. When the Celtics were in serious trade talks with the Bulls for Butler a year ago, a deal wasn’t reached because of Boston’s consistent desire to keep Crowder. Crowder then received a number of tweets that said how he should have been traded.

Crowder followed up that Twitter reply with a career season, ranking 20th in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus. The Celtics won 53 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2012 due in large part to his efforts. Crowder has again saved some disrespectful tweets for motivation for the upcoming season where he’ll now be joined with Hayward, Brown, and Tatum on the wing.

If history tells us anything, it’s that Crowder could be in for another jump this year. He has done what all great players do by getting better every season and the Celtics could be in for a longer playoff run than last season if that trend continues. Everyone has a motivational tool. Even though Crowder’s might be unorthodox, you can’t complain with the positive results.

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