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Latest on Jae Crowder trade scenarios

The Phoenix Suns continue to be open to trading Jae Crowder, but only for player(s) who can help this year

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are still interested in finding a new home for holdout forward Jae Crowder, but it’s painfully obvious that General Manager James Jones has no interest in just letting Crowder go anywhere without a good return. He’d rather Jae just sit at home than let him join another team at the Suns expense.

Crowder is under contract with the Phoenix Suns for this current 2022-23 season. The 10-year veteran and two-year starter with the Suns is their 5th-highest-paid player this year at $10.18 million. Yet, this offseason he reportedly told the Suns that he wouldn’t honor the contract unless they give him more job security via an extension beyond the 2022-23 season at similar pay. The Suns didn’t want to give him any extension, so he’s staying home.

Remember that Crowder was much-loved in Miami after helping them make the 2020 Finals, but openly admitted he bolted for the non-playoff Suns because of the three-year guaranteed contract. Word at the time was that Miami was willing to offer the same or more money but for only one or two years, but Jae preferred the three-year commitment from the Suns despite them missing the playoffs for 10 straight seasons.

Jones won’t just release Crowder outright. No matter what, the Suns have to guarantee Crowder $10.18 million this season, so they won’t pay him gobs of money to let him just walk away to join any team of his choosing. This isn’t the rebuilding Suns anymore. Jae Crowder ain’t walking out that door like Tyson Chandler did.

Jae won’t just be set free.

Jones will wait as long as it takes to find a trade partner who’s willing to give back quality rotation player(s) who can help this year and in future years. And not just any rotation players. They’d have to fit easily into the Suns proven scheme, and fit in with the Suns culture.

The failed Utah trade as a case study: today AND tomorrow

Jones proved as much with a failed trade attempt to make a trade with the Utah Jazz before the season began. The Jazz were dangling Bojan Bogdanovic around the league. Bojan is a player who could easily replace Jae Crowder in the Suns rotation, but because he makes $19 million this year he would have hurt the Suns depth (costing two rotation players to acquire) and would have wanted big money in free agency next summer.

So the Suns insisted on the Jazz including 24-year old Jarred Vanderbilt in the deal. Vanderbilt would not only help this year, but is another year away from restricted free agency before the Suns would have to shell out big money to keep him.

As I mention money, please don’t do the ‘Sarver is cheap’ thing. The Suns have committed the 7th most money in the league to salaries this year, have all of Booker, Ayton and Bridges locked up for 4+ years at market-rate, and also want to keep Cam Johnson next summer over anyone who could come back in a Crowder trade.

Think about it: would you rather pay $18+ million a year to 26-year old Cam Johnson or 34-year Bojan Bogdanovic. That would have been the Suns dilemma next summer.

That’s why the Suns wanted Vanderbilt too.

As you hear about potential Suns trades of Crowder, you can assume the Suns would only do it if the return includes 2023+ assets already under contract.

Forget the ‘Jae for a bad salary and draft pick’ idea

First of all, the Suns are looking for good rotation player(s) in return for Jae. Playoff-quality rotation players. There’s no way Jones would trade Jae to another team in exchange for some dude who wouldn’t make the playoff rotation.

And you can reasonably surmise that Jones has no interest in any contender’s ‘late first round pick’ as the carrot. He’s already got all his own late first round picks going forward and he doesn’t even like rookies all that much. Why add more?

Just look at his track record. Veterans Dario Saric (2019), Torrey Craig (2020), Landry Shamet (2021) and Chris Paul (2022) have all been acquired for Jones’ first round picks. He hasn’t kept a single one of them since taking over in 2019.

The only Suns player on a rookie-scale first-round-pick deal right now is 26-year old Cameron Johnson, who was taken 11th overall in 2019 with Minnesota’s pick as part of the Dario deal. Compare that to the team he took over as interim GM in October 2018, a team that had FIVE players (Booker, Bender, Jackson, Ayton, Bridges) on rookie-scale first-round-pick deals and lost 63 of 82 games.

No, Jones doesn’t want your crappy future first, Milwaukee. Or Miami. Or any contender who wants to add Jae for their playoff run.

Although, if the Lakers called to offer their unprotected 2027 pick for Jae, Jones might have a change of heart. I’m not saying Jones wouldn’t take back a pick, but it would have to be a pick with potential to be very good... so he can trade it to someone else, probably.

Et tu, Miami?

The latest rumor, via Ian Begley, has the Suns asking for Max Strus as part of any deal with the Miami Heat.

The Heat love Crowder. The Heat, off to a slow 5-7 start while hoping to contend before Kyle Lowry gets any older, need Crowder. He would give the Heat more size and toughness they’re missing right now, while Strus would provide the Suns another sharp-shooter while they wait for Cam Johnson to return.

Strus went undrafted out of college, found his way in the G-League, and now has a very promising NBA career ahead of him. The 26-year old 6’5” guard is now in his 4th year with the Heat, on a meteoric rise from nothing to trusted playoff starter on a contender. His minutes per game over four years have exploded — 3 to 13 to 23 to 32 — to the point he’s basically the 6’5” version of Cam Johnson. Strus is averaging 15.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists this year. Like Cam, Strus is a very good shooter and good enough defender to stay on the floor in the playoffs.

Likely, the Heat want the Suns to take the guy who Strus replaced in their rotation: Duncan Robinson, who rides their bench while making $18 million a year. This deal looks a ton like the Utah deal I outlined above. Robinson’s salary alone would cost the Suns two rotation players to acquire (Crowder and Dario?), but it’s even worse than the Utah deal because Robinson isn’t even a starter and has three more years after this one... possibly costing the Suns a chance to keep Cam Johnson next summer.

So, you can understand why the Suns would want the minimum-salaried Strus as part of any deal. If you’re potentially going to lose Cam because of Robinson’s contract, you’d better have a replacement around. Strus is potentially that replacement.

Still, this doesn’t seem like a good deal for the Suns if Robinson has to be part of it.

There really aren’t any great deals to be had with Miami. Their salary structure is wacky. The only players they can trade before December 15 either make more than $16-million or less than $5 million. So there’s not a great match with Jae’s $10 million number, unless we wait till close to the trade deadline. And even then, do you want Victor Oladipo for Jae? Vic hasn’t even played this season, or much of the last three seasons with knee issues.

Stay patient, Suns fans.

Jones will want value for Jae. He wants a veteran rotation player or two who can help not just this year in the playoffs but also for years beyond that. And not someone who will break the Suns salary structure for next year and force Cam Johnson to leave in free agency.

Teams will be more likely to make deals in January, through the trade deadline. We likely won’t see any Crowder movement until then. And for good reason.

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