On January 3rd, we saw Jae Crowder get as frustrated with the fans as we’ve seen in his career. He was very upset that the Celtic fans cheered for Gordon Hayward, a potential free-agency target this summer, during introductions and throughout the Celtics 115-104 win over the Jazz.
Crowder made it absolutely clear how disappointed he was that the fans were cheering for a guy who could potentially come in and take his spot. He fired off a series of Tweets that didn't sit well with Celtics fans on Twitter.
The next Tweet is the one that caused the most uproar.
It was clear Crowder’s emotions got the best of him and according to Brad Stevens, Crowder apologized as soon as he saw him the next day.
“I was somewhat surprised to read what he said and tweeted,” Stevens said. “I told him that this morning because, every day that he comes in, you can tell that he’s thankful to be a Celtic and every time we have that talk about how you represent Boston as an athlete and how tough you have to be to be well-liked here, I always thought Jae represented the best of that. The first thing he said was, obviously, he wished he didn’t express himself like that, but we talk all the time about embracing the expectations of being an athlete here in Boston because I do think this city is such a tremendous sports town and offers our guys such an opportunity to grow and feel those banners above us, feel the expectations of being a team-first player then playing as hard as you can. A lot of our guys have embraced that. I don’t know that anybody has embraced it as much as Jae over the last few years.”
Thankfully, Crowder’s comments didn’t seem to upset Stevens or anyone in the Celtics organization, though I’m sure they’ll have a conversation with him behind closed doors.
Jae did make it clear, though. He thinks Hayward would come to Boston to take his spot. I understand it from Crowder’s perspective, he stayed loyal to the Celtics by taking a five-year contract extension on a bargain deal in the new cap and now he’s facing uncertainty. Crowder knows that Boston wants to acquire a star player with their cap space if they can.
If the Celtics did acquire Gordon Hayward, it would be for him to start, not come off the bench. That thought is definitely a possibility this summer with Hayward’s ties to Brad Stevens. Stevens coached Hayward and the Butler Bulldogs to the 2010 National Championship, and the two have remained good friends as they’ve transitioned to the NBA. Hayward would instantly fill something the Celtics need, another player who can score and take over games. The Celtics would then have a big three of sorts with IT, Al Horford and Hayward, which I think instantly vaults Boston into contention for the top spot in the East. The Celtics have great depth and with Stevens coaching ability, they’ve proved they can defy the odds before.
But back to the main issue, Crowder understands that he and Hayward both like to play small forward and he thinks that one of them would have to move out of the starting lineup. However, the Celtics can roll out a slightly smaller lineup that puts Hayward at the three and Crowder at power forward. This starting five, along with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford, gives the Celtics a ton of versatility on both sides of the court.
Offensively, Hayward would replace Amir and Johnson and likely dig into Kelly Olynyk’s minutes a bit to get him around the 28-32 minute mark a night. Hayward is six foot eight inches and 230 pounds while Johnson is six foot night inches and 240 pounds, so the size difference isn’t as much as you would think. Johnson is more of a banger than Hayward, but that’s why Crowder would take over the four spot. In this era of basketball, positions don’t really matter as much because players are expected to be versatile.
Hayward would make the Celtics offense more dangerous, his presence would mean all five starters on the floor are capable of scoring from deep. Johnson only averages 6.5 points per game in 20.3 minutes per game while Hayward would add 22.4 points per game in 35.3 minutes per game. I would expect Gordon’s points per game and minutes to drop slightly, but his efficiency will rise in Boston’s offensive system. Hayward also is good at moving the ball, he averages about four assists per game and would fit right into the unselfish culture that has been established on offense. Brad Stevens has a knack of putting players in the right positions for them to be successful, and I’m sure he could mold Gordon Hayward into an NBA star (If Jordan Crawford can win player of the week, Hayward can be a top-10 player in the league). With all five starters capable of scoring, Stevens would be able to pick and choose which mismatches he would like to try and exploit on every possession, and that team would undoubtedly become the best offensive team under Stevens so far.
Defensively, it’s even better. A quicker and more agile Hayward slides into Johnson’s spot. Hayward averages one steal per game and would just add to Boston’s ability to create turnovers on defense and turning them into fast break opportunities. Imagine Thomas, Bradley, Hayward and Jaylen Brown running the floor together in transition, it’s a complete mismatch. The Celtics biggest weakness that could be exploited with this lineup is rebounding. Hayward does average six rebounds a game to Johnson’s 4.4 though so maybe that weakness is overstated. I would like to see the Celtics fit a rebounding big into their additions, that would fill a big need too.
As I stated above, players that can fill into multiple positions seamlessly are highly sought after in this day and age of the NBA. Crowder and Hayward are both those types of players, which is why I believe playing them alongside each other would generate a lot of success for Boston.
We don’t want to lose you Jae, we just want to get banner eighteen. Maybe playing alongside Gordon Hayward is the way to do that.