If there is one thing the Phoenix Suns are sorely lacking at this moment in time, it is most certainly depth. Unfortunately for the organization, they are also top heavy not only in the talent that they have, but the money that they are paying these guys.
With Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton making a ridiculous $145 million combined next season, the Suns are going to struggle to add to their rotation without going into the harsher penalties that the new CBA will be introducing later this year. It is imperative then to be shrewd, and to look where others are not at strengthening the roster.
Which is why a reunion with former Suns’ player Jae Crowder makes sense, because much like he did before, he ticks a lot of boxes for the franchise.
It is well known that Crowder had a strained relationship with former head coach Monty Williams, which led to the player sitting out before forcing a move to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns didn’t miss him too much, but that was back when Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson were still firmly in the rotation.
With Williams having gotten the top gig with the Detroit Pistons, in theory there is nothing stopping Crowder from coming back then. About the only potential roadblock could be if assistant coach Kevin Young is promoted, which is looking more likely by the day. It is not known if the standoff between Crowder and Williams extended to his assistants such as Young as well.
But if the bad feelings end with Williams then Crowder makes sense for even more reasons than he previously did. At 32, he is firmly in win now mode, and although his last contract with the Suns was for three years and $29 million, there could be some wiggle room to bring him back on an even cheaper deal again.
Crowder’s value around the league is modest, and he is not going to be any other team’s top priority once free agency begins. If the Suns can swoop in early and reconcile with the player, he would be an important addition to a rotation that would benefit from his defensive abilities, especially off the bench.
Crowder is a big body and a willing defender and would become this team’s version of what Aaron Gordon is so excellently doing for the Denver Nuggets this postseason. Crowder is not as good as Gordon, and certainly not as young, but in a seven game series you can trust him to stick to the Jayson Tatums and Jimmy Butlers of the world for large stretches of games.
Crowder shot 36.9 percent from deep during his time with the Suns, and in 18 regular season games with the Bucks this year was a scorching 43.6 percent from beyond the arc. This would be the kind of shooter the Suns would want to have open around Booker and Durant, capable of knocking down a big shot.
Touting Crowder as a player who could come back and have real use for the Suns is not sexy. It is a place they have been before, and were largely fine without once he was gone. But the introduction of Durant makes adding players even more difficult than it already was, and so cheap veterans who still have some juice in their legs like Crowder are the players the Suns have to identify.
There’s a reason Crowder continues to get chances with fringe contenders and playoff regulars like the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. Elite wing players are among the most prized assets an organization can have these days, with an individual like Crowder who is capable of slowing them down not far behind.
Every contender needs that guy who can defend multiple positions as a wing player, and the Suns have not had anybody close to that since trading Bridges for Durant. Josh Okogie certainly tries, but as an unrestricted free agent himself this summer who is only 24-years-old, it is likely another team comes in with a reasonable offer that the Suns can’t even match.
That would leave an ageing Paul, Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet as three of the top eight guys in the rotation. To say that combination is porous defensively would be an understatement. It would be fantastic if the Suns could get a younger wing to occupy this spot, but the harsh reality is that unless they strike oil with their second round draft pick, they will not.
Which is why they must circle back to Crowder, and get him signed early to avoid watching one of the most viable and reasonably priced options go elsewhere. There’s a sense of unfinished business with Crowder in Arizona as well, and it would be great to see his redemption arc complete with a strong showing in a Suns’ uniform in next year’s playoffs.
This is the realm the Suns find themselves in right now, and it is all of their own doing. All that is left is to add Crowder to the rotation, which would go a long way to rounding out a roster that is going to look very different come opening night of next season. As a result of the financial decisions made by the front office, it can’t go any other way.