The Boston Celtics don’t have a single bad contract if you look up and down their roster, but Jae Crowder’s is the best of them all.
One could argue that Isaiah Thomas – who is due less money than Crowder next season – has a better contract, but the fact that Crowder still has three full years remaining worth just a grand total of $21.9 million is where he really becomes a steal; Thomas is heading into a contract year and will require a massive pay raise next season.
What’s even better is the fact that Crowder has still been getting better each year. He shot 46.3% from the field last year and 39.8% from beyond the arc, both overwhelmingly career highs. His improved offensive efficiency went beyond shooting percentage though as Crowder’s 1.7 turnovers per 100 possessions was his lowest total since getting traded to Boston during the 2014-15 season. The gritty forward is also seen as an excellent defensive player while also averaging a career best 5.8 RPG and 2.2 APG this year.
Crowder will turn 27-years old in July, meaning the final three years of his cheap contract will cut right through the prime of his career. The Celtics are put in an even better position with this deal because they also have 20-year old Jaylen Brown already making a big impact for the team off the bench and all signs point towards Brown having a bright NBA future ahead of him.
But even though the team’s situation on the wing looks pretty solid at the moment, Danny Ainge is still looking for an upgrade as he tries to take the Celtics from the clear cut second best team in the Eastern Conference to a squad that can actually put up a competitive fight for the conference crown. One name comes to mind, and it’s one that fans all across New England have been hearing for years; Gordon Hayward.
Hayward is older than Crowder – but by just 105 days – and he will also cost Boston every penny that the current CBA allows them to offer in order to sign him, but he’d still be worth it as a guy who could potentially help the Celtics take that next step. He’s an All-Star who has scored more in each of his seven years in the NBA, which was made even more impressive this past season when he averaged his least minutes per game since the 2012-13 campaign. While Hayward might not be looked on as the individual defensive talent that Crowder is, he clearly has to fit well into a team’s defensive concept as the Utah Jazz have finished first or second in total defense each of the past four years.
There’s no guarantee that the Celtics do wind up inking Hayward in free agency, but you’d have to assume they have a great shot at landing him. He wasn’t named to any All-NBA this past season, so Utah isn’t able to offer him a “super max” which puts the other 29 teams across the league on even ground in terms of the money they can offer. After that, Boston is an attractive team that is set up to compete for the entire length of the max contract he’d receive from them and he also played for Brad Stevens in college.
Successfully signing him will mean more change is coming because it would be tough to keep Crowder and Brown both on the roster while giving them each enough minutes to have their impacts fully felt. It would actually put the Celtics in the weird position of becoming sellers despite already owning tons of future assets while also striving to compete next year.
There would be a big market for both players, but different teams would be interested in different guys. A team that’s hoping to win some games right away would be more attracted to Crowder and his contract while somebody looking ahead to the future would love to have Brown and all the potential he brings to the table.
Ainge could look into filling a frontcourt spot by trading one of these guys. Starting power forward Amir Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and Kelly Olynyk – who came off the bench but averaged more minutes than Johnson this past season – is a restricted free agent. The Celtics might not be able to afford either player next season – especially if they bring in Hayward for max money – so trading Crowder or Brown for a new big man and possibly more picks on top of it could help push the team even closer to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Danilo Gallinari and Rudy Gay – who both averaged over 18 points, five rebounds and two assists last season – are two other free agent options on the wing that they could look at, but both of them would be second choices after an All-Star like Hayward.
Figuring out what to do with Gerald Green will be a “b-list” topic of conversation this summer. Green inked a one year deal to return to the team that drafted him back in 2005 in late July and he was never really a regular member of the rotation during the season. The veteran had the worst statistical season since returning to the NBA in the 2011-12 campaign after two years in Russia and China as he appeared in just 47 games. A lot of these appearances looked unplanned as he seemed to take second half minutes away from inexperienced players like Brown and Terry Rozier on nights where they struggled. This was an important role as he gave Boston solid minutes without warning and he might be available in late July or early August once again, right around the time teams are looking to plug holes on the back end of their roster.
James Young will be a free agent after Ainge chose to not pick up the fourth year option on his rookie deal back in October and he might be in need of a fresh start. It’s still too early to call Young a “bust” because he’s just 21-years old and hasn’t really had the opportunity to get real minutes yet. For a solid example of how he could turn his career around, just look at the paragraph above. Green was picked 18th overall – even higher than Young – out of high school by the Celtics and at age 24 he was cut by a professional team in Russia, a country that has never been known for having a competitive basketball league. While Green has never truly reached the ceiling that some scouts saw when he came in the NBA, he’s still made himself into a solid player and Young can easily do the same thing if you give him time and minutes; that just won’t come with a deep team like the Celtics.