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Jae Crowder still hasn’t been traded. Despite his agreement with the Phoenix Suns to remain away from the team until they could navigate a trade, despite Phoenix’s 6-1 start to the season, and despite Crowder’s value as an experienced 3-and-D wing, Bossman still technically remains a member of the Suns.
Last week, The Athletic’s Shams Charania listed the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat as Crowder suitors, reporting that the Suns had engaged in talks with both the Bucks and the Hawks about a potential deal. Since then, it’s been virtually silent on that front. Now, more than two weeks into the season, it begs the question: How long will it take for this process to play out?
Once the majority of recently-signed free agents become trade-eligible on Dec. 15, perhaps negotiations will gain a little more steam. But it’s feeling more and more possible this uncomfortable situation stretches all the way to the Feb. 9 trade deadline.
Cam Johnson’s encouraging progression as a starter puts less pressure on Phoenix to work out a Crowder trade right now. Still, swapping a vet who started on a 64-win team last year for another useful piece to plug into the Suns’ playoff rotation should be a priority for general manager James Jones. The more time that new arrival has to get acclimated on a contender, the better.
We’ve already covered numerous targets in a potential Jae Crowder trade, including De’Anthony Melton, Justin Holiday, Alex Caruso, Caris LeVert, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, Eric Gordon, Jordan Clarkson, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kelly Oubre Jr. and plenty more. But since it’s been a while, let’s whip up a few more ideas for the Suns to ponder as the year unfolds.
The Wizards got off to a 3-1 start that felt too good to be true, and since then, they’ve fallen to 4-4. That’s good enough for seventh place in the Eastern Conference at this early stage, but if Washington falls out of the play-in picture once again, does the calculus finally change for this front office?
It’s difficult to stay. Bradley Beal agreeing to a five-year, $251 million contract extension indicates the two sides believe the Wizards will be on the up-and-up soon, and if that’s the case, shipping off young talent probably isn’t on their list of objectives.
But if the Wizards fall off yet again, or if Beal struggles to stay healthy like last year, is it crazy to think they decide to join the tank race for Victor Wembanyama? In that scenario, Kyle Kuzma is an intriguing target to consider…and not just because he appreciates the Sunburst.
Through eight games, the 27-year-old is averaging 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on .459/.349/.793 shooting splits — numbers that are eerily similar to what he put up in D.C. last season. He’s been a starter during that stretch, but for all his imperfections, bringing him off the bench behind Cam Johnson would supply Phoenix’s second unit with some much-needed scoring pop.
Crowder doesn’t really fit into Washington’s list of needs in this tanking scenario, but he’s an expiring contract they could wheel-and-deal in another trade, and they’d be adding a 24-year-old wing stopper in Josh Okogie along with a first-round pick for their trouble.
If the Suns were really greedy, and things got so bad in Washington they decided to have a fire sale around Beal and the core youngsters, Monte Morris is another guy who’d fit in nicely:
It’d have to get really bad for the Wizards to dump both Kuzma and their current starting point guard, but one bad stretch, injury, etc. can change an entire season’s trajectory. And while Cam Payne is off to an encouraging start in getting a hopeful bounce-back year underway, Morris would give the Suns another experienced ball-handler coming off the bench…and a Payne alternative if last year’s playoff disappearance repeated itself.
Morris’ 8.9 points, 5.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game don’t sound like much, especially with mediocre .413/.364/.733 shooting splits attached. But he’s also starting, on a new team, and has shown what he’s capable of over the past few years coming off the Denver Nuggets’ bench, when he established himself as one of the best backup point guards in the league.
It’d take Crowder, Okogie and Saric to fulfill the salary requirements here, and maybe two first-round picks to get the Wizards to bite on a trade for Kuzma and Morris. But even at the costs of two firsts, a playoff rotation of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Deandre Ayton, and some combination of Payne/Morris, Landry Shamet, Torrey Craig, Kyle Kuzma and Jock Landale feels like a step in a positive direction.
Utah Jazz (again)
Is it possible the Utah Jazz wind up being too good for a trade like this? Off to a surprising 6-3 start, a team that was expected to dump all its veteran rotation players and become a frontrunner in the race for Wemby is now third in the West. The question is whether this is an early-season fluke that eventually regresses to the mean, or an unlikely success story Danny Ainge decides to ride out.
For our purposes, and because most of these trades will require a few months to unfold anyway, we’re going to assume Utah plummets back down to earth and decides to start siphoning off its attractive players for draft assets.
Lauri Markkanen is off to a great start this season, averaging a team-high 21.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor. He’s only made 29.3 percent of his 3s, but because he’s only 25, there’s a good chance he’s already established himself as a young player the Jazz should keep developing.
However, if he and the Jazz come back down to earth, maybe Ainge’s thinking changes — especially if the Suns are willing to go the extra mile and throw an additional first-round pick on top of their offer. Utah could look to move Crowder and/or Craig elsewhere for additional assets, but even if they couldn’t work out secondary trades for them, they’re both expiring contracts.
For Phoenix, Markkanen would fill a position of need at the 4, supplying the Suns with more rebounding, scoring and shooting off the bench. He’s also under contract through 2024, with an $18 million player option for 2024-25. If he’s available and the Suns feel Markkanen could help tighten up the playoff rotation, two first-rounders is a small price to pay for a shot at the title.
Truthfully…this one’s gross. Even ignoring Grayson Allen’s unseemly track record for dirty plays, this isn’t a great return for Jae Crowder. Strengthening another title contender the Suns could very well meet again in the Finals makes it worse.
Unfortunately, if the Suns truly have discussed a deal with the Bucks, their options, realistically, are pretty limited. Milwaukee probably likes Bobby Portis too much to send him Phoenix’s way in a Crowder trade, and he’s not even trade-eligible yet. Serge Ibaka looks pretty close to washed, and a combination of George Hill and the injured Joe Ingles doesn’t make sense either.
That leaves Allen, who shot 40.9 percent from 3 last year and is at least a warm body capable of creating some offense off the bench. However, his .333/.314/.875 shooting splits to start this season aren’t comforting, and again, Allen is an underwhelming return for Crowder — both on and off the court.
Coming off a Finals run where Derrick White had a number of big-time performances, the Boston Celtics probably aren’t keen on trading away the 28-year-old guard. With Robert Williams III out, White currently starts in a wing-heavy lineup with Al Horford at center. However, you can never have too many 3-and-D wings, and if there’s a first-rounder attached, that’s one way to at least start the conversation.
Maybe Brad Stevens is happy with where his team is currently at. The Celtics obviously have a talented, young, versatile core at their disposal. Although they needed to go out and get Malcolm Brogdon to address their lack of ball-handling and playmaking, White is a very useful two-way player.
With that being said, Crowder’s defense and playoff grit would be a perfect fit for this Boston team, and it’s a team he’s played for in the past. Adding another multi-positional, hard-nosed wing in Craig would make the Celtics downright scary, and while Phoenix’s 2023 first-rounder likely holds little appeal, pushing it back to 2025 — when Chris Paul is unlikely to still be playing for the Suns — might make this kind of offer more tempting.
Again, helping another title contender get deeper may not be in Phoenix’s best interests, but they’d be turning Craig and a guy who doesn’t currently play into White. That’s one way to fortify the bench, and according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jake Fischer, the Suns had interest in White, so it’s not completely out of left field.
Even if his current 42.3 percent shooting from downtown doesn’t hold, White can score, defend and serve as a secondary playmaker in the Suns’ 0.5 offense. He’s a glue guy who can do a little bit of everything, and that’d be worth a first-rounder if that’s what it took to get Boston on the phone.
I know, I know: A lot has changed since last year, when I first posited a Thaddeus Young trade. Derrick White is the most optimistic name on the list; Young is probably the most pessimistic.
With that being said…at least he’d be a warm body who could fill out the depth chart? He’s barely playing for the wing-heavy Toronto Raptors, averaging just 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 8.0 minutes per game. But that’s due to the Raptors’ depth more than anything, and it was just last year that Young put up 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game on 46.5 percent shooting, including 39.5 percent from 3.
That doesn’t sound like much, but as a second- or third-string guy, it’s better than the 0.0 points and 0.0 rebounds on .000/.000/.000 splits Jae Crowder is currently averaging!
After signing Young to a two-year extension, maybe the Raptors are happy just having him in the locker room as a veteran depth piece. Crowder would undoubtedly help, but there’s no guarantee he’d get the playing time or extension he’s been seeking there.
In any case, as much as this would be an underwhelming return for Crowder’s services, Young is a well-respected vet who can defend, rebound and score efficiently around the basket. That’s not a terrible skill-set for one of the Suns’ low-end roster spots.
It’d be okay to have a guy like Young near the end of the bench lineups. It’d be better to address the Suns’ need for upgrades in the middle of that rotation, and a guy like Nicolas Batum might be one solution.
Yes, we know: Helping another title contender, especially in the same division, is generally bad form. But Batum’s minutes are down, which might speak to his availability on the trade market now that Kawhi Leonard is (kind of) back. It was just last season that he started in 54 of 59 games for the Clippers, averaging 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a night on 40 percent shooting from 3. That number has dipped to 35.3 percent so far this season, but his playing time has dropped too. He’s 33 years old, but that’s not old enough to be worrying about him being washed just yet.
Batum can’t be traded until Jan. 15, but this might be a mundane sort of win-win trade: The Clippers get an upgrade to their wing depth with Crowder, while the Suns turn Crowder’s absence into an experienced two-way wing who can plug a lot of holes off the bench. The biggest downside is Batum’s $11.7 million salary for next season, but that’s movable if need be.
San Antonio Spurs
It’ll take a first-rounder to pry Josh Richardson (or anyone, really) from a young San Antonio Spurs team designed to tank. That’s okay, because turning the void that is Crowder and a 2025 first-round pick into a two-way guy like Richardson would really help Phoenix’s depth.
J-Rich isn’t the primary playmaker the Suns could really use for that second unit, but he’s a decent scorer who’s shot 39.7, 44.4 and 43.2 percent from long range over the last three seasons. He’s been a double-digit scorer off the bench during that time, and at 6-foot-6, he’s a capable and engaged defender in the backcourt and on the wing.
On a $12.2 million expiring salary, Richardson might be one of those “good but not great” players the Spurs don’t feel like paying to keep around in the midst of a full-scale rebuild. That could make him expendable as the trade deadline approaches, and while Crowder serves no purpose on a tanking team, San Antonio could always flip him elsewhere for an additional asset.