Jae Crowder stood to the side of the Utah Jazz’s practice facility Tuesday afternoon, motoring through responses to queries about his weight loss, his fit on the roster, the benefits derived from going through a full training camp with the team.
And every time he turned his head just so, you’d get a glimpse of the black rubber band holding his thick braids — inconspicuous if not for featuring a single word, printed in white capital letters and outlined in green: BOSTON.
That’s where he’s played his best professional basketball thus far. That’s the place he displayed the form he’s trying to recapture. But this is the place he’s happy to be now.
“I feel pretty good and I feel like it fits very well,” Crowder said. “I feel like it’s a meant to be-type deal just being here.”
That’s certainly what the organization was hoping for when it acquired the forward at the trade deadline last season in a deal that sent Rodney Hood to Cleveland. But Crowder was hardly a seamless fit. While his season started rough anyway, following a summer trade from the Celtics to the Cavs, it didn’t get much better in Salt Lake City. In 27 regular-season games with the Jazz, Crowder averaged 11.8 points in 27.6 minutes per game, but shot just 38.6 percent from the field and a subpar 31.6 percent on 3-pointers.
In the team’s playoff run, he got an extra two minutes per game, but his scoring decreased to 10.0 ppg and his overall shooting declined to 32.4 percent. (His treys did go on a slight uptick to 33.3 percent.)
Last season was emotionally exhausting from the outset. Following a career year with the Celtics, he was sent to the Cavaliers in the summer as part of the package that returned star point guard Kyrie Irving to Boston. Then, Crowder told the Cleveland media at his inaugural news conference there, his mother succumbed to cancer not five minutes after he told her he’d been traded.
This summer, Crowder was determined to set a different tone, and the noticeably leaner seventh-year forward said he lost 14 pounds in the process.
“I wanted to move better. I felt like I wasn’t moving at my best last year. And that’s probably me being not as engaged as I was before with basketball as a whole,” he said at Monday’s media day event. “So I just wanted to work by butt off and get more engaged and have more fun with the grind.”
The grind continues now with training camp. While he said there were no massive differences between how the Jazz do things and how they’ve gone elsewhere — “training camp is training camp,” he noted simply — he did concede it’s been helpful being able to see how he fits in with his now-familiar teammates while not in the midst of chasing a playoff berth.
“It’d be very beneficial for myself, for my sake going forward and for my psyche, just to know exactly what coach wants, just to be a part of what the team wants, to be a part of the group from here on out," Crowder said Tuesday. "It’s beneficial to myself and just beneficial to our group.”
That’s the goal, anyway. To get Boston Jae Crowder back. He averaged a career-high 14.2 points there in 2015-16. The following season with the Celtics, his scoring dipped slightly to 13.9 ppg, but he put up career-bests in field goal percentage (46.3), three-point shooting (39.8), rebounds (5.8) and assists (2.2).
“Jae Crowder performing at the level he did with the Boston Celtics is a big factor” toward Utah’s success this season, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey noted.
Crowder echoed that sentiment. Between the weight loss, the extra time to get acclimated to the team, and the desire to prove himself again, the 6-foot-6 former second-rounder out of Marquette said he’s ready now to play the roles the Jazz envisioned when they brought him in.
“I feel like I fit pretty good. Being able just to be thrown in a lot of different scenarios and different positions is fun,” he said. “It takes a lot for me, mentally, but I’m prepared for it. I’m prepared for everything they’re throwing at me.”
JAZZ VS. PERTH WILDCATS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
When • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • None