Danny Ainge has made many shrewd moves over the course of his tenure as President of Basketball Operations, from acquiring superstars to finding diamonds in the rough in the crapshoot that is the NBA draft. But coming into the 2015-2016 season, Ainge faced a bit of a conundrum: he didn't have many moves to make.
Sure, Ainge came close. There was the secret near mega-deal at the trade deadline, a brief flirtation with Kevin Love before he re-signed with the Cavaliers, and any number of other near misses. However, the move that turned out to be the shining jewel of one of Ainge's least active seasons was re-signing a man who was once nothing more than salary matching filler: Jae Crowder.
Coming off a productive half-season, pegging Crowder's value was a difficult ask for a front office that had had mere months to evaluate his contributions when given heavy minutes. Crowder had always had the reputation of being a stellar defender (even going back to his days at Marquette, where he and Jimmy Butler combined to give opposing offenses fits) but his offensive game was only a notch above raw, and his three-point shooting especially needed work for him to stick in an NBA rotation.
After coming to Boston, Crowder flashed a league average three-point shot and real impact defense in helping the Celtics reach the postseason. At only age 24, there was clearly still room for growth -- but, like with many other great half seasons, there was also room for some team to massively overpay an unproven player.
Ainge met Crowder in the middle, agreeing to a five year, 35 million dollar deal that left the former Maverick as the only Celtics player under contract past 2019. While the average value of the deal was low -- only 7 million -- many around the league wondered whether Crowder was worth even that, and posited that if he wasnt, the long term of the contract could turn it into a bit of an albatross.
After a season in which he proved to be the team's best two-way player, third leading scorer, and one of the league's best defenders, Crowder has shown emphatically that his deal is no albatross; it's a bargain.
One need look no further than the Celtics late season swoon after Crowder suffered a high ankle sprain to see his value. While Evan Turner and Marcus Smart filled in admirably, no one on the team could replace Crowder's shooting and ability to guard elite wings, and Crowder's hobbled status most certainly contributed to the Celtics loss to the Hawks in the playoffs.
Much like his partner in defensive crime (or theft, if we are married to basketball terms) Avery Bradley, Crowder will soon be criminally underpaid under an expanded cap that may soar as high as $93 million this offseason. Crowder's shooting has improved every season he has been in the league, and his pump and drive game became an integral part of the Celtics pace and space offense this year -- all while he laid claim to his natural role as the team's vocal leader.
So while Ainge may be most famous for the big moves, it was an afterthought that turned into his most impressive move of the season. With any luck, Trader Danny will have bigger opportunities this offseason -- though another Jae Crowder certainly wouldn't hurt either.
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Photo Courtesy of Nancy Lane via the Boston Herald Brenton Bauerle 5/16/2016 02:05:00 PM Tweet Edit