Jae Crowder’s contract with the Boston Celtics is the envy of the rest of the league. The combo forward re-signed for five years and $35 million last summer, and it looked like a bargain at the time. Now, after Crowder’s career year and an offseason where Evan Turner signed a four-year, $70 million deal, it looks like robbery.
Imagine, then, how New York Knicks fans must feel when reading this quote from president Phil Jackson, via Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak:
“I think the biggest mistake I made was actually this…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. 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 (or Rosen) appears to have mixed up the details here. The Celtics weren’t involved in that trade — they had sent the Mavericks the pick that became Cleanthony Early in a trade that was completed on the night of the 2013 draft. If the Knicks had taken Crowder from Dallas, then he would have never gone to Boston in the Rajon Rondo trade in November of 2015.
- In defense of Jackson, this was the summer of 2014 and Crowder was largely unproven. He had played two years in the NBA for the Mavericks and was seen as more of an energy player than a reliable 3-and-D guy. New York wasn’t the only team to miss out on acquiring him when his value was low, and it’s a good thing that Jackson is willing to admit that he made a mistake.
- Criticism time: Even if Jackson wasn’t convinced that Crowder could be a helpful enough offensive player to justify more than backup minutes, the Knicks needed toughness and defense. They were, after all, trading one of their only good defensive players: Tyson Chandler. Crowder would have been a good fit, and because of his potential, he was precisely the type of player New York should have taken a chance on. Instead, Jackson took back the No. 34 pick in the draft.
- The idea that Crowder wouldn’t have been able to play behind Carmelo Anthony doesn’t hold water. This undersells Crowder’s versatility — it was clear even when he was playing in summer league that he could guard multiple positions, and a lot of his present-day value comes from the fact that he can hold his own against bigger power forwards. It also assumes that Anthony is best at small forward, which has been demonstrably untrue for years now. There is no reason they couldn’t have played next to each other.
- Jackson is right: Losing out on Crowder looks like his biggest miss so far. The Knicks’ biggest problem right now is a lack of depth, so it matters that Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, Early and Thanasis Antetkounmpo (the No. 51 pick in that draft, which was also included in the deal) have not become important players for them. Crowder would have been a part of their core, and they might have been able to keep him at a discount, like the Celtics did.
- There is, of course, still a chance that other Jackson moves could turn out to be worse than not taking a chance on Crowder. Maybe he will force the triangle offense on new coach Jeff Hornacek, unnecessarily cluttering the court and slowing the pace. Maybe the Derrick Rose acquisition will be a total disaster. Maybe Joakim Noah will be unable to stay on the floor. The possibilities are endless.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Phil Jackson says his biggest mistake is not trading for Jae Crowder