Jay-Z should feel bad for the Suns; they’ve got 99 problems and Jae Crowder is one.
It’s been a long, brutal, drama-filled summer for Phoenix. After winning a league-best 64 games and cementing themselves as title favorites, the last few months have included:
- The Suns coughing up a 2-0 series lead, getting steamrolled by 35 at home in Game 7 for the most embarrassing playoff loss in franchise history against an inferior Dallas Mavericks team
- Phoenix falling short of championship aspirations with an infamous second-round exit
- Reports of a COVID-19 outbreak during that series
- Soap-opera drama surrounding Deandre Ayton after his sideline blowup with Monty Williams in Game 7 and signing a max offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers that was immediately matched by Phoenix
- Kevin Durant trade buzz going nowhere, forcing the Suns to miss out on meaningful upgrades in free agency
- The NBA releasing its findings in the investigation of owner Robert Sarver, confirming numerous, horrific examples of sexist, racist and misogynistic behavior
- Jae Crowder repeatedly suggesting on social media that he doesn’t want to be here anymore
Compared to all those other items, Crowder’s Twitter and Instagram activity feels more like a footnote. Unfortunately, the latest tweet from No. 99 — quote-tweeting AZ Central’s Duane Rankin and stating that “99 WONT BE THERE” for training camp — puts the Suns in a tough spot.
Even if that tweet was immediately deleted, screenshots live forever, and Media Day is only two days away.
Update: On Sunday, the Suns released a statement confirming Crowder and the team had “mutually agreed” that he will not be with the team for training camp. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported the two sides are working on a trade, as expected.
Back in August, Crowder tweeted about change being inevitable and that he believed “IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE.” It was a vague and sudden schism from the team, but it could’ve referred to anything: wanting a trade, reacting to being told he’d be coming off the bench behind Cam Johnson, talking about a new diet, who knows?
But as time went on, Crowder’s Twitter likes and pinned Instagram comments suggested the truth: He’s done with the Suns, and he’s not afraid to let the world know in the pettiest way possible.
If James Jones decides it’s no longer just “noise” and trades Jae Crowder, it’ll be an unseemly end for a guy who’s been a consummate pro in Phoenix up until now. His 3-point shooting could be streaky at times, but he was a fan favorite and an intrinsic part of the Suns’ developing culture thanks to the veteran leadership, defensive know-how and mental toughness he provided.
Chris Paul was the biggest catalyst, but this young group wouldn’t have made such a massive one-year leap from Bubble Cinderellas to smash-mouth, shit-talking, NBA Finals contender without Bossman and his swag either. It should also be stated that we don’t know what may or may not have gone down behind the scenes this offseason, and Crowder’s name has frequently been used as trade fodder all summer. It’s understandable he’d feel a certain type of way about that.
With that being said, as Crowder tries to force his way out, the Suns can’t afford to let a potential malcontent brood in a locker room that already has enough healing to do after that stunning Game 7 loss. There’s no room for error for a team whose immediate title window is starting to close. Winning cures most ills, but if Crowder really is upset about coming off the bench in a contract year, and this is how he’s choosing to go about it, it’s in Jones’ best interest to move him as soon as possible.
Until the last few weeks, trading Jae Crowder just to trade him didn’t make a ton of sense. He’s a useful 3-and-D veteran on an attractive $10.2 million expiring salary, but at age 32, he’s unlikely to fetch a first-round pick in return. Even if he does, a package built around a first-rounder doesn’t immediately help the Suns for their upcoming campaign with championship aspirations. They could flip that pick in another blockbuster deal, sure, but that’s all contingent on a big name actually becoming available and Phoenix managing to work out another trade.
In any case, Crowder acting out changes the equation. Including him as part of a larger trade package feels unlikely at this point in the offseason, so the Suns have to work quickly to move him for something of value before his public gripes further evaporate their leverage in trade talks. Bearing all that in mind, let’s look at some Bossman trades.
Just-to-make-a-trade Jae Crowder trades
Don’t count on this one actually happening. Crowder’s Instagram activity and three of his last four likes on Twitter indicate he’d welcome a return to Miami, and The Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson confirmed the same.
Unfortunately for Crowder and the Heat, Miami’s salaries make it tough to work out a fair trade that actually helps the Suns. Victor Oladipo and Dewayne Dedmon can’t be traded until Jan. 15, and Oladipo can veto any trade.
That basically leaves the 28-year-old Duncan Robinson. He’s an elite shooter, canning 40.6 percent of his 7.9 3-point attempts per game through his first four NBA seasons, but the Suns have struggled to fully harness the talents of those kinds of spot-up snipers under Monty Williams. Plus, Robinson’s abhorrent defense limits his impact come playoff time.
Throw in the remaining four years and $74.4 million left on his contract, and the Heat would have to include a first-rounder for this to make sense, especially with Dario Saric or Landry Shamet attached to match salary. Unfortunately, that still wouldn’t make much sense unless Jones had another blockbuster deal lined up where he could flip the pick and immediately improve his team. Otherwise, the Suns lose two rotation players for the price of one guy who won’t see the floor in the playoffs and a pick that won’t help them now.
It’s still hard to envision Jae Crowder being an active cancer in a locker room full of guys he enjoys being around…but if that’s the case, and you’ve got to move him somewhere, this is the kind of meager return one might expect as a last resort.
It’s not that Taurean Prince is bad; he’s scored in double figures for most of his six-year career, is a capable defender at multiple positions and has made 37.1 percent of his 3s since entering the league. The Suns could do worse in terms of finding a last-minute backup 4 to plug in behind Cam Johnson.
However, going from Crowder to Prince in the rotation is clearly a downgrade, and what’s worse, the Minnesota Timberwolves can’t even ease the Suns’ pain by including a first-round pick, since they shipped out pretty much all of their picks over the next decade in the Rudy Gobert deal. Two second-rounders is the best Minnesota can do in terms of sweeteners, which makes this an uninspiring option.
Could the Suns actually get the Hawks to include a lottery-protected first? That’s debatable, but it’d have to be in 2023, since Atlanta owes the San Antonio Spurs their 2025 first-rounder as part of the Dejounte Murray deal.
This swap is a lot sweeter with a pick attached, but it’s not terrible without it. Justin Holiday is an improved spot-up shooter and underrated wing defender we’ve written about at length in the past. Jalen Johnson admittedly didn’t show much in his rookie season, but he helps the salaries match, fits a position of need at the 4 and is still only 20 years old.
Like he would in Miami and Minnesota, Crowder would help Atlanta, lending his shooting and gritty defense to another team with playoff ambitions. Also like Miami and Minnesota, it’s hard to say whether he’d start on the Hawks…and whether he’d be happy about that, since he’s upset about coming off the bench for a title contender in Phoenix.
I mean…sure? Now we’re just making trades to make trades. Which, to be fair, might be where the Suns find themselves, depending on how toxic this situation gets.
But it’d still sting to send Crowder to the team that decimated Phoenix in Game 7 and give them both a happy reunion, especially since Reggie Bullock doesn’t address a position of need. He’s a reputable 3-point shooter who logged heavy minutes during Dallas’ playoff run, but Phoenix can do better.
Optimistic Jae Crowder trades that’d actually help
Does it make much sense for the Sixers to trade for De’Anthony Melton and then wheel-and-deal him to the Suns for another tough defender at a different position? Maybe not. But it’s the type of move Jones should at least inquire about, especially after Philly pocketed Melton for a hobbled Danny Green and the 23rd pick in this year’s draft from the Memphis Grizzlies.
Jae Crowder would further cement the 76ers’ title aspirations, though he’d have tough competition for the starting job with P.J. Tucker in town. Either way, his playoff experience would help, while Melton would directly address Phoenix’s lack of guard depth. He’s not a traditional point guard, but last season with the Grizz, he put up a career-high 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game off the bench, shooting 37.4 percent from 3 and doubling as one of the NBA’s most amoebic defenders.
His progress as a shooter (he made 41.2 percent of his 3s the year prior too) and all the intangibles and hustle plays he brings to the table would be a welcome boon in his return to Phoenix, even if he wouldn’t help their depth at the 4. Jaden Springer, coming off a rookie season where he only suited up for two games, is included to make the math work.
Speaking of bolstering Phoenix’s guard depth, how about another previously-mentioned target, Alex Caruso? The 28-year-old isn’t a traditional point guard, but for what he lacks in playmaking ability, he makes up for in hustle plays. Caruso is a defensive pest, and to his credit, he also averaged a career-high 4.0 assists in 28.0 minutes per game last year.
The big question is whether Caruso can be a reliable shooter. Since he entered the league, he’s alternated between poor 3-point efficiency (30.2 percent as a rookie, 33.3 percent in 2019-20 and 33.3 percent last year) and lights-out shooting (48 percent in his second season and 40.1 percent in 2020-21). If the flip-flopping continues, Caruso’s in line to bounce back again this season!
Unfortunately, as much as Crowder would help make the Chicago Bulls a more experienced, tougher defensive squad, Lonzo Ball’s latest injury means they’ll be less likely to move Caruso in the meantime. That doesn’t help Phoenix if the goal is to dump Crowder quickly. Then again, the Bulls still have Goran Dragic and Coby White on the roster if they decide to cash in on Caruso’s value while they can.
After trading for Donovan Mitchell, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to want draft picks. If the Suns could get away with moving Crowder and Landry Shamet for Caris LeVert, without including a pick, more power to them. That’d be a no-brainer.
The question is what happens if Cleveland holds firm in demanding a first-rounder.
On the one hand, there’s no question LeVert would be a great pickup if he can return to form again. It wasn’t long ago that he looked like a two-way stud for the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers, averaging just under 20 points per game for four straight seasons while cementing his status as one of the NBA’s most persistent wing stoppers on the other end. Plugging in another scorer, secondary playmaker and lockdown defender into Phoenix’s playoff rotation would be huge.
However, injuries and trades have prevented LeVert from ever truly establishing himself. In 19 games with the Cavs last year, his numbers dipped to 13.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game on .435/.313/.745 shooting splits. The Suns would need a more efficient, confident version of LeVert, even off the bench. There’s risk in hoping he can still be that guy, and there wouldn’t be much time to waste since he’d be playing on an $18.8 million expiring contract.
That might actually help the Suns steal him for slightly lesser value. Jae Crowder has proven he can help playoff teams like Cleveland who are trying to take the next step, and while Saric’s expiring is more desirable, the Cavs are fully stocked in the frontcourt between Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Kevin Love and Robin Lopez.
That leaves Shamet to match salary, and although the remaining four years on his contract seem like a lot, the third year is non-guaranteed, the fourth year is a team option, and his shooting would help a Cavs team that ranked 15th in 3-point percentage last year.
Atlanta Hawks, Part 2
Atlanta’s still a sensible landing spot for Crowder, only this time, he’s got a first-rounder and either Dario Saric (versatile help at the 5 on an expiring contract) or Landry Shamet (extra shooting for Trae Young and Dejounte Murray) attached. Because the Hawks could use more depth at center, and because Saric’s expiring contract is more attractive, the Homie gets the nod.
In return for that package, the Suns finally get their hands on Bogdan Bogdanovic again. He’s only under contract for one more year, with an $18 million player option for the 2023-24 campaign, but Phoenix could find a way to bring him back (especially if the next owner is willing to spend).
Double Bogdan underwent offseason knee surgery that will prevent him from being ready for training camp, so there’s risk here. But in terms of bench scorers and secondary playmakers, he’d be a breath of fresh air for the Suns’ second unit, averaging 15.1 points and 3.1 assists per game last year mostly off Atlanta’s bench. He’s a career 38.4 percent 3-point shooter and has proven he can hit big buckets during his time with the Hawks and Sacramento Kings.
The Hawks reportedly considered trading everyone but Young and De’Andre Hunter over the summer, so it’s not like Bogdanovic is off limits. If Atlanta gets two rotation pieces for a revamped playoff squad and recuperates a pick lost in the Murray trade, that’s a win-win.
Dallas Mavericks, Part 2
Yes, helping the team that knocked you out of the playoffs is generally bad principle. But if the Suns can turn Jae Crowder into a slightly younger, more consistent version of Jae Crowder? That’d be a home run.
Unfortunately, a straight-up swap would only make sense to the most diehard of Crowder supporters in Dallas. Including a pair of second-rounders helps close the gap, but if the Mavs insisted on a first-round selection, that’d probably be the point where Phoenix had to walk.
Still, it’s easy to envision Dorian Finney-Smith fitting in with the Suns on both ends. In addition to stout defense that would make him a worthy Cam Johnson backup, he’s also a dramatically improved 3-point shooter, converting 37.6, 39.4 and 39.5 percent of his triples over the last three years. He’s been a more efficient scorer and shooter than Crowder, and while he’s not exactly an imposing rebounder, he’s slightly better in that category too.
Crowder is the better, more experienced defender, but if the Suns have to move him in a pinch, DFS would be a tremendous replacement to back up Johnson or even start if need be. Having him on a team-friendly, three-year contract (with a fourth-year player option) would also help the Suns maintain roster flexibility for bigger trades further down the line.
Trading a first-round pick for live-by-the-Jordan-Clarkson, die-by-the-Jordan-Clarkson? That’s dicey. But throw in Jarred Vanderbilt, and that feels like fair value for both sides, especially as the Jazz continue to stockpile draft picks. At $9.1 million over the next two years, Vanderbilt’s contract is one of the best bargains in the NBA.
Apparently, the Suns had similar thoughts while negotiating for another Jazz trade target, Bojan Bogdanovic.
We’ve covered a similar trade scenario before, but this time, it’s the expiring contracts of Crowder and Saric alongside a top-five protected pick. Even that may not be enough, given what we know about Danny Ainge’s thirst for draft compensation and how highly the Jazz value Vanderbilt. Crowder going to a tanking team would be unkind, but Utah would surely aim to move him elsewhere to add to their treasure trove of assets.
In any case, this is probably as far as the Suns should be willing to go, but that’d be quite a decent haul. Clarkson’s shot selection, 3-point efficiency and overall decision-making leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s no question he can engineer his own offense — something the Suns sorely lack outside of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
Vanderbilt may honestly be the more enticing part of this deal thanks to his terrific defense and the rebounding boost he’d bring to a position of need in Phoenix. The 23-year-old averaged 8.4 boards per game last year, and although he has no 3-point shot to speak of, his 6-foot-9 frame and exemplary instincts would help him plug a ton of holes defensively.
It’s Eric Gordon, another Suns trade target we’ve covered ad nauseam! We won’t dwell for too long here, but it’s worth repeating: Even as he approaches his 34th birthday in December, the individual creation he brings to the table is still intact.
Gordon canned 41.2 percent of his 3s last year, is accustomed to a sixth man role, would help Phoenix’s guard depth and has familiarity with both Chris Paul and Monty Williams. He deserves to be on a contender, he’s clearly expendable to the Houston Rockets, and even if two second-round picks isn’t enough draft compensation, dipping a toe into the first-round pool might be worth it to help solidify the Suns’ playoff rotation.
For his secondary playmaking, shooting and ability to create his own offense, Gordon is still worth a look. It’d be strange to banish Jae Crowder to a lottery team, even after all the recent shenanigans, but the Suns have to do what’s best for the Suns, and the Rockets could easily flip him elsewhere.
The Charlotte Hornets need more shooting, wing depth and experienced vets to help them take the next step as an actual playoff team. The Suns need someone who can put his head down and get to the rim with a little athleticism. They also could use some more swagger with Crowder on the way out.
Kelly Oubre Jr. is far from perfect, and the tunnel vision and inconsistent 3-point shooting can be frustrating, but a few humbling years in the league since he left Phoenix may find him more willing to embrace a sixth man role on a contender. And he did enjoy the best season of his career under Monty Williams….
Bossman Bonus: Jae Crowder blockbusters
We’ve covered all of these before, but because very few of these bigger deals are likely to materialize over the next few days, we’ll be brief, aside from the last, bonus blockbuster.
Kevin Durant is still the pie-in-the-sky target, but for now, the Brooklyn Nets are holding onto him. Keep an eye on this highly combustible roster as the trade deadline approaches, because we know he wants to be in Phoenix.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is another hopeful target, and unlike KD, there’s been no concrete indication he even wants out yet. But with No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren going down and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s roster looking the same as last year’s tank job, how long before SGA longs for the playoffs again?
Harrison Barnes is a sneaky-good target that flies under the radar, but his two-way play, rebounding, 3-point shooting, defense and ability to create his own offense would make him an upgrade over Jae Crowder in almost every way. The only question is whether the Kings are considering parting with him, even as he enters the final year of his contract.
John Collins is a sexier option because of the alley-oop potential and capable 3-point shooting, but his defense isn’t great and this type of trade would deplete Phoenix of a lot of its wing depth. Plus, the Hawks might want a little too much for him. If this offer isn’t cutting it, the Suns should drop it, and even here, it’s a dicey proposition.
And finally, we’ve got Julius Randle, who’s a very good buy-low candidate right now. Coming off a down year to follow his breakout All-NBA campaign, Randle may not be the centerpiece everyone envisioned a season ago.
The New York Knicks clearly want to turn things around, grooming RJ Barrett and committing serious money to Jalen Brunson, but do they really want to pay Randle the $77 million he’s owed over the next three years, with a $29.5 million player option looming for the fourth year?
Jae Crowder and Dario Saric would give them some salary cap relief for next summer, at which point the question becomes: One or two first-rounders?
The Knicks will push for two if they’re suddenly moving one of their core pieces and taking a step backward. It might be better for them in the long-term to get out of his contract, but even in a down year, Randle still produced 20.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game.
The problem for the Suns is it came on inefficient .411/.308/.756 shooting splits — this, just a year after he posted .456/.411/.811 splits. Phoenix would hope that’d lower his value enough to get away with one first-rounder, but if Cam Johnson isn’t included, New York might hold the line at two firsts.
If that’s the case, it might be better for the Suns to save their trade chips and wait for a better target before going all in. Randle’s bully-ball at the 4 would be fun, and drastically help Phoenix’s rebounding woes, but he’s a largely unproven perimeter shooter and there’d be questions about his defense on a title contender.