Boston Celtics: Is Jae Crowder Part Of Team’s Future?

Jan 12, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 12, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

Jae Crowder joined the Boston Celtics as part of the Rajon Rondo trade, and has since worked his way into the starting lineup — but with the team rebuilding, has he impressed enough for the franchise to keep him past this season?

When Boston traded star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks, the Celtics received three players in return: Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder.

Everybody knew Wright and Nelson — Wright was the high-flying, athletic forward who excelled on offense (albeit in a limited role), while Nelson was the former all-star who would be a veteran locker room presence on a young team.

And then there was Crowder, the little-known prospect who spent his first  two seasons primarily as a reserve for Dallas. Not much was said about the former second-round pick when the trade happened.

Now, less than a month after the Rondo trade, Boston has already shipped Wright and Nelson out of town in separate trades — Wright to the Phoenix Suns and Nelson to the Denver Nuggets.

Meanwhile, Crowder has embraced the opportunity he’s received in Boston and has stepped into a starting role for the Celtics in place of the recently traded Jeff Green.

What does Crowder owe his recent success to?

For the first time in his NBA career, he is receiving an opportunity to show his full potential — on a team desperately looking for players with upside.

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It’s no secret the Celtics are rebuilding, and when a team is rebuilding, there are certain assets it can’t have enough of: draft picks, big expiring contracts, and promising young talent.

Crowder falls into the “promising young talent” category. In a limited role for Dallas, he showed enough potential to convince the Mavericks to exercise the team option of his contract for this season. The upside he showed in Dallas was the reason he was included in the Rondo deal.

When Boston acquired Crowder, they acquired a promising player at the end of his rookie contract who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. By trading for him midseason, it will give the Celtics the remainder of the season to play Crowder extended minutes and determine whether or not they want him to be part of the franchise’s future.

If Boston likes what it sees, they can match any offer Crowder receives from another team. If not, it can simply cut its ties and use the extra cap space to sign another player.  It’s a win-win situation for the team.

However, for the player, it’s a lot of pressure. Crowder joined the Celtics on a trial run to prove he deserves a roster spot past this season. In other words, he’s playing for his basketball life on a nightly basis.

But an opportunity is all Crowder needed, and he has responded to the pressure by playing the best basketball of his life.

Since joining the Celtics last month, Crowder has quickly become a crowd favorite with his energy and hustle. More importantly, he has stepped into a starting role and played his best on the big stage.

In Boston’s 108-100 win against the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night, Crowder played 36 minutes and scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He also recorded four steals. It was a breakout game for Crowder, but don’t be surprised if there are similar games to follow.

Since joining the Celtics, Crowder’s production has spiked tremendously — he is averaging career-highs in points, minutes, steals, and rebounds per game, while committing a career-low number of turnovers.

So has Crowder played well enough to convince the Celtics to match another team’s offer this offseason?

Absolutely. And it’s not even really up for debate.

Crowder is exactly the type of player that Boston should be looking for during its rebuilding process. He’s a young player with plenty of upside and will improve with more playing time.

Will he become a star? Likely not, but championship teams aren’t made up of only star players. Good teams need good role players, and Crowder can fill that position. With time, he can become the “glue-guy” that comes off the bench for a playoff team and does a little bit of everything.

With his energy, he can spark a team with his hustle — a contagious trait that is a valuable asset to have in a bench player.

It may take a few seasons for Crowder to fully reach his potential, but the Celtics must be patient. Rebuilding the right way takes time, and Boston risks failure if it attempts to speed up the process. Player development is part of rebuilding, and although it takes time is well worth the wait.

In the meantime, Boston should fully commit to Crowder and continue to play him as many minutes as possible. Now that Rondo and Green are gone, the Celtics have thrown in the towel and started tanking. If winning is not a priority this season, the team must take advantage of the situation by playing its youth.

This offseason, the Celtics must extend a qualifying offer to Crowder. He will undoubtedly receive offers from other teams, but the Celtics must match any offer within reason.

What’s within reason? Crowder’s qualifying offer will be $1,144,054, but the Celtics should matchup anything up to $3 million (although it’s unlikely anyone would offer more than that).

While it’s tempting to focus all the attention on big-name free agents, the Celtics will also need complimentary players like Crowder in order to be successful. That’s why the team should keep him on the roster as it starts rebuilding for the future.

There’s no doubt he’s earned it.

Next: Recapping Boston's Busy Trade Weekend