Haynes’ Latest: Crowder, C. Johnson, Barton, Tatum

The injury bug has bitten the Suns in a major way in recent weeks, but forward Mikal Bridges told Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report that the club’s struggles are also due in part to the absence of Jae Crowder. Bridges added that he supports Crowder’s decision to remain away from the team while the Suns attempt to trade him.

“That’s one of our leaders,” Bridges said. “I texted him not too long ago and told him how much I miss him. That’s my guy. It’s the NBA. It happens. I know he wants to be here, but it’s the league. That’s just how it is sometimes. This is my fifth year in the league, and I understand how it could be. You’ve got to protect yourself sometimes. We’ll love to have him here, but we get it.”

For his part, Crowder tells Haynes that his teammates respect and understand his decision, but that he’s frustrated by his situation.

“This move of pushing me out the door was a blindsided hit to not only me but my teammates, as you can see from speaking to them and myself and the conversations we’ve had behind closed doors,” Crowder said in a text message. “I will continue to prepare myself daily for battle once the call is made and continue to be a leader on the court, locker room, as well as off the court. I am thankful my teammates appreciated my leadership. I’m confused and hurt my coaches didn’t appreciate the things I brought to our team and organization. And this has nothing to do with financial or contract differences.”

We don’t necessarily know all the details about how things have played out between Crowder and the Suns behind closed doors, but the two reasons most frequently reported for his absence have been his desire for a contract extension and his dissatisfaction with his role (the team intended to move him from the starting five to the bench).

Given Crowder’s claim that his disappointment has “nothing to do” with his contract situation, perhaps the role change is why he doesn’t feel appreciation from the Suns’ coaches. Sitting out more than half a season seems like an overreaction to being asked to become a sixth man though, so perhaps there’s more to the story.

Here’s more from Haynes:

  • Suns forward Cameron Johnson told Haynes that he expects to return from his knee surgery at some point after the team returns from its current road trip. Phoenix will have a five-game home stand from January 19-26 — it sounds like Johnson plans to be back at some point during that week.
  • The Wizards have been receiving inquiries on Will Barton‘s availability, but aren’t said to be actively shopping him yet, Haynes writes. The 32-year-old is shooting a career-worst 37.5% in his first season in D.C., is earning over $14MM, and and has received multiple DNP-CDs recently, so the idea that there would be teams willing to give up anything of real value for him is dubious. Josh Robbins of The Athletic recently identified Barton as a possible buyout candidate, but perhaps the Wizards could get an asset for him if they’re willing to take on some multiyear money in exchange for his expiring contract.
  • Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has been invited to participate in next month’s three-point contest, but has yet to decide whether he’ll take part, per Haynes.
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