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NBA PM: Don’t Overlook Jae Crowder in Irving Trade

Kyrie and Isaiah are big names, but Jae Crowder may determine who got the better end of the Cavs-Celtics deal.

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Earlier today, the Celtics held a press conference to officially welcome Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to Boston. The deal is now official and the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers can move forward with their refashioned rosters. With names like Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas involved in the deal, as well as assets like the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Cavaliers landed the type of player they have so desperately needed in Jae Crowder.

The last time Crowder was in included in a trade, he was considered a throw-in piece. In 2014, the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo and forward Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and draft picks. At the time, Crowder was 24 years old and his career-statistics up to that point didn’t give much reason to believe he would become such a valuable contributor down the road. However, Crowder became exactly that in his time in Boston and now takes his talents to the Cavaliers – a team that is still looking for ways to bridge the gap with the Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James is still one of the best defenders in the league, though he certainly picks and chooses when he wants to maintain his best effort, which is understandable considering he is 32 years old and has a ton of miles on his body. However, when the Cavaliers faced the Warriors in this year’s Finals, it was James who had to take turns slowing down Kevin Durant and, in certain situations, Steph Curry. James was ineffective and inattentive at times, which was likely a result of fatigue considering how much energy he was expending on offense. With so many cutters and relentless passing, the Warriors exploited every one of LeBron and his teammates’ mistakes on defense during the Finals. Injecting a versatile defender like Crowder could have made a significant difference in that Finals matchup.

At this point in Crowder’s career, he may be a bit overrated as a defensive player. He is certainly a versatile defender that can guard at least four positions and a good amount of centers as well. However, Crowder isn’t quite the lockdown defender that Andre Roberson or Kawhi Leonard is, but he is still very effective. This is significant for a Cleveland team that struggled defensively last season (22nd in defensive efficiency in the regular season and 8th, out of 16 teams, in the playoffs). The Cavaliers could now use a lineup including J.R. Smith, Crowder, James and Tristan Thompson, which should be formidable and could maybe make up for the defensive shortcomings of point guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose. Additionally, having someone to take on the toughest defensive assignments, much the way Shane Battier used to with the Miami HEAT during James’ time there, could be a big boost for James.

Beyond helping on defense, Crowder has also become a potent offensive player as well. Crowder was fourth in scoring for the Celtics last season (13.9 ppg), second in three-point attempts (5.5), first in three-point percentage (39.8) among players that shot more than one three-pointer per game, third in free throw attempts (3.0), third in free throw percentage (81.1), third in rebounds (5.8) and fifth in assists (2.2). Simply put, Crowder wasn’t just a 3-and-D wing for the Celtics – he was a defensive linchpin who stretched the floor, moved the ball within the team’s offensive system, could attack the basket off the dribble, make plays for others and rebounded consistently as well. Crowder is one of those players who makes his team better in a number areas that are hard to notice, which is why it’s easy to overlook how significant of an addition he is for Cleveland.

Beyond his notable skill set, Crowder is on a very, very team-friendly contract. If he for some reason doesn’t provide the sort of production that Cleveland is hoping for, he could easily be moved in another trade to bring back something of significant value. And if he fits in with Cleveland even better than expected, he may make it possible for the Cavaliers to consider trading Kevin Love to bring more depth and overall balance to the roster.

Boston likely won’t miss Crowder too much early on with the addition of Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris. Hayward is a very talented and productive small forward who puts up bigger numbers than Crowder and can play multiple positions as well. Morris is also a talented forward who can play multiple positions, but it’s unlikely he alone could provide the same sort of overall production and consistency that Crowder provided. Boston could also look to Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum to replace at least part of the production Crowder provided – a tall order for two promising, but young players.

On paper, it sure looks like the Celtics gave up a lot to acquire Irving, who undoubtedly is the most valuable long term asset being exchanged in this deal. But when we look back on this deal a few years from now, don’t be surprised if Crowder’s contributions in Cleveland are one, if not the key factor that determines who ultimately won this trade.

 

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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