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Suns essentially wave good-bye to Crowder, will they be okay without him?

Just about everyone was asked about Crowder’s imminent departure. Is Johnson ready to fill big shoes?

2022 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Likely the biggest on-court topic at Phoenix Suns Media Day was the imminent departure of starting PF Jae Crowder. In recent days, it’s become even more plainly clear that the vital forward didn’t want to be in Phoenix anymore and that GM James Jones was willing to oblige.

In many cases on Monday, Crowder was the first topic that reporters brought up to Jones, Monty Williams, and his soon-to-be-former teammates. Here’s what each had to say:

General Manager James Jones:

“I’ll leave the nature of our conversations out of respect for personal and professional nature of those conversations. It’ll remain private but it’s an opportunity for us to navigate this and for our guys to step up. We’ve always said this is about the team. It’s never about one person, it’s never about one player. It’s a collective. So from our staff to our coaches, our fans, our community. This is a team thing for us, and this is just difficult situation we’ll navigate. But we’ll always do it with the utmost respect for our players. We’ll always do it with the utmost respect for those involved. And we’ll move forward and be better for it...

“This is an ongoing conversation. And after fruitful and deliberate conversations, we just decided it was best that he wasn’t with us for training camp. What that means going forward, I don’t know, we don’t know. But as of right now, it allows us and affords us the opportunity to work on the guys that are here and focus on continuing to build the foundation that’ll carry through the rest of the season.”

Head Coach Monty Williams:

“No different than James. We ended the season not knowing that this was going to be the outcome. But I see it as an opportunity for us. Like James said, our guys have been in the gym because we’ve been off for so long getting ready. Not knowing that this outcome would be upon us. And we did have private conversations and those things will remain private. Just because I want to our guys know that anytime something comes up, they know that they can be themselves and they know they’re never going to hear it out in public, at least for me. That’s how we’ve always operated James and myself, from Day 1. We’ve had a number of issues that have come up. I mean, you’re going to lead a team for three years and go through the bubble and COVID and playoff runs and playoff hurts, you’re going to have some issues. But those things are going to always remain private. And we have a deep appreciation for our players, their families and our friends. And we want them to know they’re always going to be safely guarded publicly when something comes up...

“He brought a number of intangibles to the team. I think of all of our guys would speak in that way about him. At the same time, these things happen and you have to transition and move forward. I totally am behind James in how we are handling this. And again, all the stuff that went on behind the scenes will remain private. But I think all of our guys learned a ton from being around Jae.”

Chris Paul:

“It was tough on everybody, especially losing the way that we did. But I think the summer is a time where guys get to be on their own and be with their families. For me personally, this is probably the best summer I had in my career, just getting real time with my family. So I was fully engulfed in that this summer. So everybody’s feelings and things and such, I’m not sure. But what I know is everybody has to do what’s best for them. And I’m always going to support any one of my teammates, especially someone like Jae who is a huge reason why we were even successful the past few years.”

Devin Booker:

“I’d say it’s a little unfortunate. Jae came in here a couple of years ago and we’ve done a lot of really good things here. We’ve shaped and shifted this culture but at the same time, I wish him the best moving forward. That’s a friend and a brother that I’ll have forever. And ultimately, it comes down to a business and the team and him have made a choice and we’re going to move forward and respect both sides...

on if it surprised him:

“Yeah, everybody’s unique to themself and it’s the NBA. And situations like this happen all around the league. It’s something that I didn’t want to happen. Obviously, I want him to be on this team and he was a big part of this team. But like I said, it is what it is. It’s never going to be anything personal between us. I respect both sides of the decision and we move forward. I wish him the best moving forward wherever he goes.”

Deandre Ayton:

“I’m so locked in and just getting better and starting training camp. Jae’s my guy and I know he’s doing what’s best for him.”

Cam Johnson on stepping into Crowder’s spot in the starting (and closing) lineup:

“I just continue on as I’ve continued on. My big thing throughout my three years here and going into my fourth is just control what you can control, try to be your best self day in and day out, continue to work, and continue to be somebody that can be held accountable to play and to play at a high level. I’m excited; I’m excited for every season, I’m excited for every opportunity and this is just another one of those, and I’m looking forward to just getting better in all aspects of the game.”

In the meantime, Jones and the Suns will hold out for the best possible return in a Crowder deal, and we’ll finally get to see what Johnson looks like as a full time starter.

In 36 games started over his three-year career, here’s what Cameron Johnson’s numbers look like:

  • 13.3 points on 46.1/37.2/91.1 shooting splits
  • 4.7 rebounds
  • 1.9 assists to 0.8 turnovers
  • 1.0 steals and 0.4 blocks
  • 31.8 minutes

Johnson played 42 minutes with Paul, Booker, Bridges, and Ayton — now the expected starting lineup — a season ago, and the numbers look great:

  • 118.2 offensive rating, 88.7 defensive rating, +29.5 net rating
  • 64.4% true shooting (this is really good; for reference, Booker has only had one season above 60% in his career, someone like Kevin Durant has only been above 64.4% twice in his career)
  • a blistering pace of 110.12, up from the team’s 99.8 on the season which was top 10 in the league

The Suns are well-equipped to handle the departure of Crowder if they play it right. Johnson is ready as anyone could be to step in to fill big shoes.

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