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Suns coach wants Crowder replacement by opening night

Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams knows the Suns are light in legit replacements for most of Crowder’s minutes

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

All of the Phoenix Suns, from General Manager James Jones on down to the bench mob, expressed love and respect for Jae Crowder and his decision to sit out training camp in hopes of a trade.

Why would a two-year starter on one of the league’s best teams want a trade?

It’s all business, folks.

It’s because of the Suns (rightful) expectations to give Jae’s starting job to Cam this season, and Jae’s potentially devastating loss of future contract dollars as a result. The 33-year old Crowder’s contract will expire next summer, and he will be looking for his last multi-year payday. A year of coming off the bench would severely dent that potential income stream.

Earlier this offseason, I laid out the difference in starting money vs. bench money when we discussed possible extension dollars for Cam Johnson. With Jae, who’s entering the last half-decade of his career, the $$ difference could become a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.

Right now, Crowder likely sees his career aging like P.J. Tucker’s. The 37-year old Tucker got $11 million per year from the 76ers this summer to be their 5th best starter and number one glue guy — a role that Jae has had with the Suns and Heat the last three years. But as soon as Jae accepts a full-time bench role, he would most likely be relegated to the churn of one-year deals, begging for chunks of the MLE and TPMLE every offseason (like teammate Bismack Biyombo).

The Suns understand this, and they respect Jae for standing his ground. He wants a starting job and/or long term security in the form of an extension, and the Suns don’t appear inclined to give either to him.

They respect him so much they have also given Jae (and his agent) permission to actively seek trades on his own behalf.

Why would the Suns do this? Probably because they have not been able to find a suitable trade partner themselves, one who is willing to promise Jae a starting job all year AND give back the Suns an asset (or more) that will make them at least as good if not better.

Because, you know, the Suns still want to contend for a title. They don’t want a crappy salary dump and second round draft pick in return. If that’s all they can get, might as well hold onto Jae through the first half of the season until someone’s willing to give up a good return.

In fact, the Suns appear to be looking to use Crowder’s contract and starter ability to get back something to make them even better going forward. Just look at the rumored negotiation with the Utah Jazz. The Suns could use a Bojan Bogdanovic this coming season, but he’s not much of a defender and could possibly have made the Suns worse come playoff time because of that deficiency. So the Suns insisted on young defender Jarred Vanderbilt to be included in any package. That way, the Suns might actually come out better. The Jazz declined, and dumped Bojan on Detroit.

There was also a rumor that the Suns were in negotiations with the Kings to swap Crowder for Harrison Barnes, who would be a net neutral or slight upgrade at least for a year or two, but reportedly the Kings pulled the trade back because they wanted more assets from the Suns to tip the scales in their favor. Phoenix declined.

The Suns want a deal that makes them better, not just what makes Jae happy. They respect Jae, but not enough to handicap the season for him.

For now, the Suns and Jae Crowder are in a holding pattern, leaving the actual basketball team a man short as the preseason begins.

The team is good enough to withstand that loss for a while — it’s no worse than Jae having a hamstring pull that needs a few weeks to heal. These know each other so well that training camp so far has consisted mostly of five-on-five drills and scrimmages. Even without Jae, they’ve still got 17 guys in camp.

“We’ve played more in this camp than any camp I’ve been involved in,” said Williams, entering his 16th year as an NBA coach. “We played 5 on 5 on day one. We’re much further along than we were last year.”

That said, head coach Monty Williams said on Wednesday that he’d prefer getting the ‘Jae’ resolution sooner than later.

“We’ve done a decent job of acclimating guys and that’s a credit to the coaches, but also the players that help guys once we get new people,” Monty Williams said. “I’m not so much worried about the timeline. Ideally, you’d like to get someone in here before opening night, but I like the group we have.”

The Suns will be fine during the regular season. They withstood multi-week losses among most of the starting lineup and bench rotations players last year to finish with the league’s best regular season record.

But still, it’s better to be fully stocked. Without Jae, the Suns are a little short on wing-forwards they love to mix and match, with Torrey Craig the only true backup to Mikal Bridges and Johnson.

Williams mentioned using Dario Saric as a forward in the rotation after not using him in that role at all when they went to the Finals in 2020-21. Dario doesn’t quite have the lateral foot speed to stay in front of the more active forwards in the league, and the Suns switching defense could expose him to dribble-drives. But Monty loves Dario’s effort level.

“I’d forgotten about how hard he plays, that he doesn’t back down,” Williams said, of missing Dario in 2021-22 due to his rehab from a torn ACL.

He also loves that Dario can bring the added dimension of a secondary rebounder. “That’s something we didn’t have last year.”

For all the talent the Suns had at forward, from Mikal to Cam to Jae, none of them is a good rebounder. They masked it well during the regular season — finishing 13th out 30 teams — but got killed on the boards in the playoffs with one of the worst rebound rates among playoff teams.

Between Torrey Craig, Dario Saric and even the 6’5” Josh Okogie or Ish Wainright, Williams believes the Suns can get by — for now — without Jae. For more on who can fill in Jae’s missing minutes, check out our John Voita’s article from earlier today.

“Cam is going to have a bigger role,” Williams said. “So from that perspective, I think we’re going to be OK, but ideally, you’d like somebody in here before opening night.”

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