Knicks president Phil Jackson met with Charley Rosen of TodaysFastBreak.com throughout the 2015/16 season to discuss the state of his franchise, and Rosen has been passing along the Zen Master’s comments in a series called “The Phil Jackson Chronicles.” In the latest installment of the series, Jackson admitted that he passed up on acquiring Jae Crowder in a 2014 trade, and views that as the “biggest mistake” he has made since joining the Knicks.
“One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics,” Jackson said. “In talking with Boston, I was given the option of taking that pick or else taking Jae Crowder.
“I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo [Anthony], so I took the pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early. While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us, he still has the potential to be a valuable player. Even so, I should have taken Crowder.”
Either Jackson’s comments or Rosen’s transcript seem a little off here, since the Celtics should have had no involvement in the Knicks’ negotiations with the Mavericks. The second-round pick that ultimately became Early was sent to Dallas by Boston in 2013, and the Mavs traded Crowder to the Celtics a few months after the Chandler deal, but the C’s weren’t involved in that Knicks/Mavs trade at all.
In any case, the main point of Jackson’s anecdote – that the Knicks had a choice of taking the No. 34 overall pick or Crowder – appears accurate, and of course Jackson ultimately choice the pick, using it to select Early.
At the time of the trade, Crowder was coming off a season in which he averaged just 4.6 PPG and 2.5 RPG in 16.1 minutes per contest. He was a career 40.9% shooter at that point in his career and hadn’t been more than a part-time role player, so it’s hard to criticize Jackson too much for not seeing a breakout coming — or not thinking that he could potentially get a similar player early in the second round of the 2014 draft.
Since then, however, Crowder has developed into one of the Celtics’ most valuable pieces. In 2015/16, he set career highs with 14.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 SPG, and a shooting line of .443/.336/.820. He’s also locked up on an affordable long-term deal through the 2019/20 season.
It’s impossible to know if Crowder would have enjoyed the same success in New York, or if the team would have been able to lock him up long-term, or even how his presence would have affected the Knicks’ other roster moves. But it’s still an interesting “what if?” worth considering, particularly since it may have had a domino effect on the Rajon Rondo trade between Boston and Dallas.