Lakers: Why A Jae Crowder Trade May Already Be Off The Table For L.A.

Has injury luck doomed Crowder to… a season on one of the West’s best teams?

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, starting Phoenix Suns small forward Cameron Johnson is feared to have torn his right meniscus. Charania reports that current testing suggestions he has suffered a meniscus injury, the extent of which will be determined by further imaging.

In eight games for the 6-2 Suns, Johnson had enjoyed a banner year thus far, since assuming starting duties from Crowder. The 6’8″ forward out of the University of North Carolina, 26, holds averages of 13 points (on .446/.431/.727 shooting splits), 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.1 steals a night. Those numbers would be higher, too, had Johnson not suffered the non-contact injury halfway through the first quarter of the team’s X-X loss to the Portland Trailblazers Friday night.

Felix “Flex From Jersey” Cruz, a Suns podcaster, tweets that, depending on the extent of the injury, the team could either opt for a shorter-term turnaround in its repair that could have Johnson back on the hardwood within two months, or a surgery that would live him sidelined up to six. As a restricted free agent in the 2023 offseason, it does seem possible Johnson could push for a faster return, though that could lead to further complications down the road.

The Suns could lean on big wings to fill the absence of Johnson at the four, anyone from Damion Lee to Torrey Craig or Josh Okogie. Or the club could give more minutes to big man Dario Saric. 

The team does have another option, a $10.2 million power forward who served as the starting four on consecutive NBA Finals also-rans from 2020-21: Jae Crowder, whom this writer has earmarked as a cost-effective fit for L.A. (and a player that could be had in, say, a Patrick Beverley trade).

Of course, there’s just one problem with bringing in Crowder to return to his old starting gig in Phoenix. At present, he is willfully sitting out games, having demanded a trade away from the team prior to the start of the regular season. With his former starting role now very much available, albeit for a limited time, and him still presumably cashing his Phoenix checks, can the Suns convince him to return to the fold, at least temporarily?

Crowder would be a terrific fit for Los Angeles, and, at least prior to this Johnson news, wouldn’t have been particularly pricey to pry away from Phoenix. One wonders if he could be had for, say, the Beverley contract and two second-round picks. At this point, given his newfound value to Phoenix (again, should they successfully convince him to suit up), it’s possible he will now command at least one non-lottery first-round pick. As a 3-and-D 6’6″ combo forward who can convincingly guard wings and power forwards, Crowder could be a terrific fit on plenty of playoff hopefuls looking for an upgrade at either the small or power forward position. Two of Crowder’s former teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, certainly fit that bill, as do the Chicago Bulls.

The 2-6 Lakers aren’t even necessarily expected to make the postseason at this point, but considering that they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on their roster, it would behoove them to make personnel moves in service of a playoff appearance. Crowder would be a terrific fit, as a defender on the wing and a volume floor spacer. Though L.A. has had a handful of decent three-point showings recently (the team made 43.2% of its triples on Friday night), it has been the worst three-point shooting team in the league by percentage at 28.3%. 

Crowder is a career 34.6% shooter from deep on 4.6 attempts, just about league average in terms of rate but a fairly solid amount of tries. Last year, he made 34.8% of his treys on 5.4 attempts. L.A. could use him on both sides of the ball. But if Phoenix needs him now, he may already be off the table.

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