Jae Crowder might play basketball again soon. The Phoenix Suns were close to finalizing a three-team trade involving the 32-year-old forward on Wednesday, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer. That report followed Marc Stein’s tweet about “credible rumbles” that the Suns had gotten closer to getting this strange saga over with. It also followed Crowder posting a mantelpiece clock emoji on his Instagram story.
Crowder’s 11th season in the NBA hasn’t really started yet. Just before training camp, he tweeted (and subsequently deleted) that he wouldn’t be there, and the next day the Suns announced that Crowder and the team had “mutually agreed” that he would not be with the team. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Crowder had asked for a trade in the summer when informed he may lose his starting job to Cameron Johnson, and that, when he didn’t get his wish, he requested to sit out camp.
A week into the regular season, Crowder told TNT’s Chris Haynes, “The business of basketball has taken its course and changes have come. I do not want to get into details just yet, but it’s definitely not true of the narrative being pushed about me starting or not.” Crowder was eligible for a contract extension in the offseason, and, according to Stein, when he told the team he wanted one, they responded by telling him that he might not start or close games this season. Crowder is on a $10.2 million expiring contract.
Last week, SNY’s Ian Begley reported that the Miami Heat, who traded for Crowder in 2020 only to lose him to Phoenix in free agency at the end of that season, have inquired about a reunion. In October, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks have also discussed trade scenarios with the Suns. Crowder is the type of player who can help any win-now team, which is why this situation is so bizarre — Phoenix is a win-now team in every sense of the word. Its front office is philosophically opposed to betting on draft picks and unproven young players. Its Hall of Fame point guard is 37 years old. It made the Western Conference finals last season and had the best regular-season record in the league. At 9-5, the team is one game back of the best record in the West again now, despite Paul missing its last three games with a heel injury and Johnson being out for a month or two because of a torn meniscus that required surgery.
All of this is to say that this is anything but a typical veteran-wants-out situation. Andre Iguodala, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, John Wall and J.R. Smith have been shelved in recent seasons, but they were all on young teams and most of them were on unwieldy contracts. Given that Crowder is on a team-friendly, expiring deal, he is way too good for a buyout, and Phoenix wants any prospective trade to make the team better in the short term. Neither side wanted this to remain unsettled a full month into the regular season, but, while there is no shortage of suitors for Crowder, it is inherently difficult to find a swap that makes sense.
In the absence of Crowder and Johnson, the Suns have been starting Torrey Craig, who has thrived. Free-agent addition Damion Lee has also benefited from the extra playing time. Craig and Lee combined for 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting (6-for-9 from deep) and 18 rebounds in 57 minutes in Phoenix’s 130-119 win against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Wednesday. The Suns have the league’s third-best offense, third-best defense and second-best point differential through 14 games.