Jae Crowder wasn’t a fan of Gordon Hayward’s courtship with Boston before it was cool.
Back in January 2017, as Celtics fans cheered on the then-Jazz forward who would become a free agent that summer, Crowder fumed. He told media after the Jan. 3 game that he felt “disrespected.” Only a few months later, Hayward had indeed signed with Boston, and Crowder had been traded to the Cavaliers in what would end up an ill-fitting situation.
That might be a starting place for Jazz fans and Crowder, 27, who was traded to Utah on Thursday morning, to find a bond. But the Jazz front office hopes that the strong-bodied, dreadlocks-laden 6-foot-6 forward can resume the defensive stopper role that once gave his career life in Boston — and that would really score points with the fan base.
Crowder is the piece the Jazz will keep from the three-team trade that saw them deal out Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson. But who exactly is Crowder? He’s a Georgia native, a JuCo-scrub-turned-Big-East standout, and a former second-round draft pick who fought his way onto the court with gritty defense.
In other words, he just might make a good Jazzman.
The Jazz are in Crowder’s roots: His father, Corey Crowder, played in 51 games for the Jazz in the 1991-92 season, averaging just 2.2 points per game. He also ground out a living overseas, before cutting a path back to the NBA in 1994 for just seven more games.
Crowder himself had a hard-scrabble path to the league, playing at Howard College in Texas after forsaking his first love: football. His play led to a scholarship offer at Marquette, where he blossomed into the 2012 Big East player of the Year.
But Crowder had not yet proved himself to NBA front offices: He was the No. 34 overall pick in that year’s draft — behind players such as Tony Wroten, Miles Plumlee and Festus Ezeli (notably a pick before Draymond Green) — and was traded to Dallas on draft night. After two-and-a-half pedestrian seasons with the Mavericks, he was traded to Boston.
That’s where his career flourished. Under Brad Stevens, Crowder’s minutes rose from 10 to 24 per night, and he evolved into a reliable scorer. In his second and third seasons in Boston, Crowder improved as a 3-point shooter (39.8 percent in 2016-17) and became an everyday starter in the Celtics rotation, averaging about 14 points per game. He was often tasked with guarding the top wing option (who wasn’t guarded by teammate Avery Bradley) on the opposing team, and helped hide the defensive flaws of star guard Isaiah Thomas.
But if the Cavaliers were looking to recreate that this season by trading for Crowder and Thomas, it didn’t work out. Crowder’s scoring and shooting dipped, his defense looked less formidable, and he seemed to lack chemistry with teammates. In one notable incident last month, he didn’t help Kevin Love off the floor after the center had tumbled.
In his career, Crowder has averaged 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and a steal per game in six-and-a-half seasons. Only once has he surpassed his career 34.4 percent shooting on 3-point attempts for a whole season. There’s two more years remaining on his contract, valued at roughly $15 million. He’s rejoining a former teammate, Jonas Jerebko, who played with him in Boston.
With the Jazz, Crowder is expected to play both the small forward and power forward positions, providing defensive versatility while hopefully rediscovering his lost shooting touch. He will be asked to help fill the roles, in certain ways, of injured veteran Thabo Sefolosha while taking on the minutes of traded forward Johnson.
It’s a place to start. For much of his career, that’s all Crowder has ever needed.