As the Boston Celtics head into the offseason, NESN.com takes a closer look at each player on the roster in an effort to determine who will stick around for next season and who will be playing elsewhere.
Next up: Jae Crowder.
Crowder likely played himself into a nice payday this postseason.
The Boston Celtics should be the ones signing the check.
After the performance he put on during the Celtics’ playoff push and ensuing first-round sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s clear Crowder, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, deserves to be in Boston for much longer than four months. (Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge apparently agrees. He said Thursday the team will extend Crowder a qualifying offer.)
Crowder’s impact on the Celtics this season was difficult to quantify. The only remaining piece from the Rajon Rondo trade, Crowder occasionally put up strong offensive numbers (in late March, he scored in double figures eight times in 11 games) but made his true mark in ways that don’t show up in the box score.
Just ask rookie point guard Marcus Smart, whose starting spot Crowder took over for Sunday’s 101-93 loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Smart had started 22 of the previous 23 games, but head coach Brad Stevens opted for the bigger Crowder in a last-gasp — and ultimately unsuccessful — attempt to shut down James.
Getting benched for the pivotal game of a playoff series can’t be the greatest feeling in the world, but Smart was more than understanding. In fact, when asked where the Celtics looked for motivation after dropping the first three games to the Cavs, Smart was quick with his response.
“Jae Crowder,” said Smart, who spent several minutes talking with Crowder at the forward’s locker before tipoff. “(Saturday), we heard he was going to be in the starting lineup. Just his defensive intensity and his energy on the court, with him out there you kind of have to pick up your energy and have to stay motivated. Just because he plays, his energy rubs off on you.”
Crowder ultimately did not make it to the final whistle of Boston’s season finale. He suffered a sprained left ACL (which will not require surgery) after taking a cheap shot from Cavs guard J.R. Smith and missed all but 97 seconds of the second half.
“The heart and effort he puts in every day, his intensity, just his mindset of the grit and grind that he brings to the team, it’s tough to see him getting carried off like that,” forward Jared Sullinger said. “At the same time, it was something we needed to see, to see one of our teammates go down and kind of pick up the slack.”
Smart agreed, saying Crowder’s injury “no doubt” fired up the already motivated Celtics even more. Boston outscored Cleveland 25-16 in the third quarter after trailing by 21 points at halftime, then got to within six in the game’s final seconds before falling short.
Crowder has the respect of his teammates, the adoration of his coaching staff (Brad Stevens’ praise of the 24-year-old would fill several novels) and the love of a fanbase that cherishes players who play Crowder’s gritty, physical style of basketball.
If he’s wearing anything other than Celtics green when the new season tips off in October, it’ll be a real shame for all parties involved.
Up next: Luigi Datome
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images