Jae Crowder Was Almost Traded to the Knicks

There was a time when Phil Jackson almost traded for Jae Crowder

The sky is the limit for Jae Crowder following his breakout season in 2015-16 with the Boston Celtics. Prior to joining Boston, he never got significant minutes with the Dallas Mavericks, mostly being used off the bench for the two and a half seasons he was with Dallas. Crowder saw a measly 15.9 minutes per game with the Mavericks, but still showed signs that he could turn into a solid offensive player and a really good defensive player in the future.

Although, through 25 games with the Mavericks in 2014-15, Crowder saw just 10.6 minutes per game off the bench. As a result, he was eventually part of a multi-player deal that sent him, Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright and a 2016 first and second round pick to the Celtics in exchange for Dwight Powell and Rajon Rondo.

He has since turned into one of the most promising two-way players in the NBA, starting 73 games for the Celtics last season. Crowder averaged 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, while shooting 33.6 percent from three. For 2015-16 being his first season as a full-time starter, Crowder fared very well.

He was a part of some trade rumors at the deadline and leading up to the draft, though – mainly circulating around Jimmy Butler. However, it seems that Danny Ainge and the Celtics have opted towards keeping Crowder as their future small forward, not wanting to lose a potential All-Star and some for Butler.

None of this could have mattered if the New York Knicks, specifically Phil Jackson, traded for Jae Crowder back in 2014.

According to Phil Jackson, who spoke with Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak, “One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics.”

Jackson also added, “In talking with Boston, I was given the option of taking that pick or else taking Jae Crowder. I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo, so I took the pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early. While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us, he still has the potential to be a valuable player. Even so, I should have taken Crowder.”

Jackson seems to be somewhat confused. The Celtics shouldn’t have had any involvement in the trade, although that doesn’t mean his whole statement is false. He likely was given a choice between the second round pick or Crowder and opted towards the pick, but didn’t have to contact Boston.

Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The second round pick ended up being the 34th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, when the Knicks drafted Cleanthony Early. He has appeared in just 56 games over two seasons with the Knicks, starting nine. Injuries have derailed his short career and has made it hard for him to see consistent minutes.

He’s put up 4.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per game over 14.3 minutes in his career. His nice outside stroke that he showcased at Wichita State has disappeared, though. Early has shot just 34.6 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from three. Simply put, unless Early finds playing time and shines this year, his NBA career could be coming to an end very shortly.

In hindsight, it looks like another mishap by Jackson. One of the greatest coaches of all-time has not had an easy time transitioning to being an executive with New York. The Knicks have won just 49 games over two seasons since he joined the front office, and their big offseason this summer may not even be enough to catapult them into the playoffs.

With that being said, this was far from a terrible choice at the time. As previously noted, Crowder was barely playing during the 2014-15 season. The player that Crowder is now was a mere dream at that point, and Crowder would have continued coming off the bench last season if he was on New York. Sure, Crowder could have had a breakout season as the team’s sixth man but his expanded role in Boston played a huge factor in his increased production.

Of course, Crowder showed a lot more potential than a measly second round pick through his first two and a half seasons. Developing Crowder behind Carmelo Anthony and running a small ball lineup with Melo at the four and Crowder at the three in the future could have been an option, as well.

Looking at Crowder on the Knicks now, there are plenty of lineups that could work and have plenty of success. But you also have to remember the type of player Crowder was at the time and that his potential wasn’t as sky-high as it is now. In fact, there were people who doubted Crowder would be as successful as he was last season, let alone the type of player some project him to be in the near future after watching him play last season.

In the end, Phil Jackson made another mistake, but it’s exemplified by Crowder’s success last season. Crowder was only a second round pick himself, but he showed enough during his time with Dallas that proved he could have a significant role on a winning team. Whether Jackson viewed him as simply a defensive specialist at the time, or a potential two-way player, Crowder was the safer option than an unknown in the second round.

Jackson had a choice between two player drafted with the 34th pick, and he chose wrong. It’s viewed as a catastrophic mistake now by the Knicks but it wasn’t prior to Crowder’s breakout season, especially when considering the sophomore season Early was coming off of at Wichita State.

The Celtics got a little lucky but, in a way, isn’t that fitting when considering everything that went their way during their mini rebuild? Danny Ainge once against orchestrated a beautiful rebuild for the Celtics, but it didn’t happen without some luck, and it all started when Phil Jackson turned Crowder down for a second round pick.