We should have never traded you, Bossman.
The life of an NBA role player is such a precarious existence that is usually outside of their control. The league’s middle class is good enough for those deals in the $10-15 million a year range. However, those contracts are also the perfect ballast for bigger trades. Accumulating stars will always be the #1 priority for front offices, but often, the real difficulty is building around those players and striking the perfect balance. And yet, those unsung players are usually unnoticed and underappreciated unless they’re on the sport’s brightest stage.
For the last two years, Jae Crowder has made back-to-back trips to The NBA Finals with the Heat and Suns. He’s neither team’s best player or the reason they were/are competing for a championship, but he was/is an integral part of why they were/are contenders and retrospectively, why the Celtics haven’t been.
Back in 2017, the Jazz were visiting Boston in Gordon Hayward's contract year in Utah. Fans showered him with cheers in the hopes that that summer, he'd choose the Celtics in free agency and reunite with Brad Stevens. Crowder was understandably miffed.
To Jae, cheering for an opposing player, regardless of circumstance, was one of his 99 problems. The Garden faithful broke a bond between player and fan, and I'm guessing it also offended Crowder on a deeper, maybe more personal level. The Celtics at the time were a fairly starless team (although Isaiah Thomas was in the middle of an MVP campaign) defined in large part by Crowder.
They were overachieving underdogs that the city embraced. So openly gushing over Hayward--a superstar widely expected to sign a max contract in July--was disrespectful and hypocritical to the very blue collar work ethic he and his teammates had committed to as the franchise looked to rebuild their culture.
Alas, six months later, Crowder would be included in a trade to bring in a marquee name (Kyrie Irving, not Hayward) and in that deal went not only Crowder, but everything he brought to those early Brad Stevens’ teams.
Since then, Crowder is no stranger to the “rent, don’t buy” lifestyle. After insisting he was included in the trade that sent Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks, Danny Ainge locked up Crowder with a 5-year, $35 million contract the following summer and for the last five years, Crowder has either been playing for contenders or waiting to join one. From Boston to Cleveland to Utah to Memphis to Miami, the journeyman was targeted for his defensive versatility and streaky shooting and passed around like a reliable used car.
In Phoenix, he's found a home where seemingly all aging veterans go to rejuvenate their careers, but Crowder wasn't looking for the fountain of youth in the desert. The Suns weren't just looking for another 3&D guy to round out their roster either. They needed the nasty, the edge that Chris Paul adds to any team he's on that's enforced by lieutenant Crowder.
With Phoenix two wins away from a championship, this Celtics fan can't help but root for Crowder to get this chip and think that what the Celtics have been missing since trading Jae is, well, Jae.
Stars have come and gone over the last three seasons. That hasn't been the issue. In so many dead spots of so many of the last regular seasons and crucial moments of the playoffs, we've missed him. Players have masqueraded as Crowder fill-ins. Marcus Morris brought it at times. Tristan Thompson has plays a good tough guy on TV. None of them have been Jae Crowder.
Economics can get in the way of a player’s fit on a team. Age, too. Chemistry is fleeting, so don’t bother trying to bottle that up. Timing is often the biggest enemy. But for guys like Crowder, character and pride are constants. We knew that when he was in Boston and we see it now in Phoenix. He’ll undoubtedly pack and unpack his bags in another city some day. NBA turnover is inevitable. That’s just the nature of the beast, but regardless of the jersey he’s wearing, we know Crowder will bring it because, well, that’s just the nature of the beast, too.
Good luck in Game 5, Jae.