By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When news broke that the Celtics signed Gordon Hayward, the reaction from his new teammates on social media was — as one would expect — quite gleeful.
Isaiah “Eyeballs” Thomas was reportedly seen dancing around before saying “let’s get to it” and tagging his new sidekick. Al Horford was pumped. Marcus Smart, who actually might end up getting traded to clear room for Hayward, shared his excitement.
One Celtics starter who tweeted nothing at all was small forward Jae Crowder. That may have been pure coincidence. It also might have been the furthest thing from a coincidence.
It does not take an elephant’s memory to remember that back in January, Crowder did not for one second appreciate hearing some Celtics fans offer some light applause when Hayward was introduced in the starting lineup for the visiting Jazz. The applause — which came because the fans in attendance were well aware of Hayward’s forthcoming free agency — was not thunderous; it merely stood out in contrast to the boos rained down upon the other four Jazz starters that night.
Nevertheless, despite a 115-104 win over Utah and despite 21 points and despite tying a career high with five 3-pointers, Crowder was very upset after the game.
“I heard the cheering before the game. I didn’t like that at all,” Crowder said. “I think that was a sign of disrespect to me from the fans. That sparked a little fire in me. … I just felt disrespected.”
As it turned out, those postgame comments were nothing compared to his medium-fledged Twitter meltdown that same night.
Crowder retweeted a Mavericks fan who told him to return to Dallas. To another user who told him to “love it or leave it” in Boston, Crowder replied, “I HAVE NO PROBLEM LEAVING IT!”
To another Twitter user, he wrote, “I KNOW I’LL BE APPRECIATED OTHER PLACES.”
A couple of days later, having had a couple of nights to sleep on his deleted tweets, Crowder stood by his overall feeling.
“That’s one thing I regret, going back and forth with fans on Twitter. But that’s how I was feeling at the time,” Crowder said. “Obviously I don’t want to leave Boston. Obviously I love it here. Obviously the fans have treated me great. No doubt about that. I still stand behind what I said about how I felt disrespected when they were cheering for Gordon Hayward. I live with that, I stand behind that 100 percent as a man, as a basketball player who puts my time away from my family into this. I stand behind that.”
Considering the Jazz and Celtics don’t often intermingle, that was essentially the end of the story.
(Crowder missed the Celtics’ rematch with the Jazz a month later.)
(Crowder also liked several tweets last month calling for him to be traded, for whatever that’s worth with regard to the situation.)
But fast-forward to the present day, and not only do the Celtics have a need to clear salary space for Hayward, but they also have a bit of a redundancy at the small forward position. While position-less basketball is becoming all the rage and while Brad Stevens could find a way to make things work, it would be very difficult to make the veterans happy while also getting the past two No. 3 overall picks playing time and while also putting the best players on the floor at all times.
And considering Hayward will be around for a while, and so too (presumably) will be Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Crowder would seemingly be a player whom Danny Ainge now works to trade.
In an ideal world, of course, the Celtics would keep Crowder and utilize him as a highly valuable bench player. He could come off the bench and play tenacious defense while also presenting a real scoring threat. On a championship team, he’d be an absolutely perfect sixth or seventh man. The fact that his contract is incredibly affordable would make this scenario work.
The problem is that since joining the Celtics via the Rajon Rondo trade as a bench player, Crowder has performed well enough to become a starter. He’s started all 145 of his regular-season games and 24 of his postseason games over the past two seasons.
And the thing with most NBA players is that once they become regular starters and once they prove that they’re productive NBA players, they don’t typically want to go back to a bench role. And with some of the salaries being dished out around the league, how could anybody possibly blame them?
Isaiah elevated his game from bench player to starter, and all he’s ever talked about since is backing up the Brink’s truck. Again, nobody could rightfully begrudge him or anyone else for doing so.
So, realistically, it’d be hard to imagine Crowder buying in to the idea that he’d be a great bench player for the Celtics — especially considering the stacked odds against Boston for getting past Cleveland and Golden State to win a title. On either of those other two teams, perhaps Crowder could sense a realistic shot at a title and bite the bullet in the short term. But on a Celtics team that still needs to improve to join that tier and also has to shed some salary, it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where Crowder plays elsewhere next season.
And of course, any and all future showdowns between Crowder and Hayward will instantly become must-watch (and must-tweet) material.