WALTHAM, Mass. -- On his first full day as a member of the Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder sat at a podium inside TD Garden and the first words out of his mouth centered on getting the Green back to the postseason.
The Celtics were seemingly a team building towards the future1 when they traded Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks in mid-December in exchange for Crowder, Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright, and future draft picks. It was the fifth of 11 trades the team has made during the 2014-15 season while utilizing 22 on-court players and 41 total roster players.
Nearly four months later, Boston improbably stands positioned for a potential return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. There's plenty of work left to punch that postseason pass, but the mere fact that the Celtics control their playoff opportunity would have seemed unfathomable at times this season.
Did Crowder really believe this was possible?
"There was a lot of basketball to be played, a lot of games to be played, so of course I did believe it was a goal," said Crowder. "It was something we felt like we could achieve, something we could work towards each and every day, to try to get better as a team, mesh together, and try to reach the goal."
While the Celtics traded both Nelson and Wright less than a month later, the 24-year-old Crowder has emerged as maybe Boston's most consistent and versatile bench presence. He's averaging 9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists over 24.2 minutes per game in 53 appearances with the Celtics.
Crowder's gritty play and passionate attitude have endeared him quickly to Boston fans. Earlier this week, Crowder took a quick break from the weight room to talk about Boston's playoff push, his restricted free agent status after the season, the time Brad Stevens got really mad (then apologized to the team), and his affinity for Kevin Garnett.
ESPN.com: What’s it like to be in control of your playoff fate with five games to play in the regular season?
Crowder: It’s fun, but we have to take one game at a time. We still have a lot of good teams ahead of us on the schedule. So we’re just taking it one game at a time, not looking too far ahead. Just making each one count.
ESPN.com: On Instagram, you posted a picture of you and Kevin Garnett, each tugging at your Celtics jersey, with a caption, “The Presence of Pride.” What has it meant for you to be a member of the Boston Celtics?
Crowder: It’s unbelievable. The feeling to play for such a great organization like this is very prideful. Just to get out, put it out on the line each and every night is a great feeling for a basketball player. And to know you are playing for something other than yourself. I’m playing for guys that were before me and the great teams that were before us. It’s a great feeling to be part of this organization.
ESPN.com: How much were you aware of how much KG changed the culture here?
Crowder: He’s one of my favorite players, even before I got to the NBA. I followed him before he became a Celtic. When he got here, to see the process of him winning the championship and what it took for them to come together as a team, I follow him and I admire his passion for the game and what he’s brought to the game, and what he’s done for the game of basketball. I just always loved KG.
ESPN.com: You’re a soft-spoken guy, but you type in all caps on Twitter (@CJC9BOSS). Why are you always shouting at us?
Crowder: I’m not really shouting. It’s just something I do that’s different. You notice when I do Tweet. It’s just something different. But I’m not really shouting at you.
ESPN.com: You guys have your first national TV game on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. The Mavericks were on national TV a lot when you were there, so what has it been like to float under the radar a bit in Boston?
Crowder: My whole life I’ve been under the radar, so it’s not weird. I fit right in with what’s going on over here. I did play a few televised game with the Mavericks and it’s not a big deal over there, but we’re excited. We’re not really focused on that part of it at this point of the season, but just taking it one game at a time. That’s what happens when you win ball games, you start to get recognition like that.
ESPN.com: You’re going to be a restricted free agent this summer2. Have you started thinking about that process at all?
Crowder: No. I just want to make the playoffs. And once you make the playoffs, everything will take care of itself. I’m not worried about it. Because my goal is to make the playoffs and we are right here where we want to be. As a player, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make the playoffs, get back to the playoffs because I was there last year and know it’s a different type of basketball. I’m just focused on that.
ESPN.com: But it’s safe to say you’ve enjoyed your time in Boston?
Crowder: Loving it.
ESPN.com: Did you expect that when you came over from Dallas?
Crowder: When I first got here, everything was changing, it was a little different because I didn’t know what to expect. You hear about all the buzz, you hear about all the good stuff. But you have to really watch it and experience it yourself and that’s what happened to me. I’ve just been nothing but grateful and thankful ever since.
ESPN.com: Brad Stevens is becoming renowned for his late-game play-calling. As a player, how much faith do you have that what he’s sketching up will translate on the court?
Crowder: Well, they’ve worked pretty much more times than not, so I believe in it. We believe as a unit, and it’s always a different lineup there late in the game, and you never know who the ball is going to go to. It’s something different, but we believe in him. Like I said, it’s worked more times than not. The stuff he draws up is very, very difficult, but he knows exactly the situation we are in and he puts us in position to win these games.
ESPN.com: A lot of people talk about Stevens' ability to stay even-keeled on the sideline, but what has stood out most to you about him as a coach?
Crowder: Just his player-coach relationships. He has a relationship with everybody. He tries to build a relationship with each and every player. Each player is different and he knows that and the way he handles himself with that is unbelievable and needed at this level.
ESPN.com: Have you ever seen Stevens get really mad?
Crowder: I’ve seen him get mad a few times. I saw him get mad and then come back and apologize that he got mad. I told him, ‘Don’t [expletive] apologize,’ because we needed that that one game. I can’t remember who it was ...
Crowder: Yeah, something like that. He apologized and I was like, ‘Man, don’t apologize. We needed that at that time.’
ESPN.com: Do you keep an eye on the Mavericks given your history there?
Crowder: I watch basketball. I got League Pass, so I watch a lot of basketball. Each and every night I watch basketball, so I keep up with the whole league.
ESPN.com: Do you scoreboard watch because of the team’s playoff hunt? A lot of guys don’t like to admit that they are keeping track of other teams around the league in a playoff race.
Crowder: I definitely watched Indiana-Miami game [on Sunday] night; I’m not going to lie to you. I watch basketball every night. I don’t root -- whatever happens happens -- I root for my team. But I watch.
ESPN.com: I read that you were 200 pounds in high school.
Crowder: I wasn’t this tall.
ESPN.com: Right, but now you’ve got one of the more muscular builds on this team. What happened?
Crowder: I had a growth spurt. And a lot of work. A lot of work and discipline. But I had a late growth spurt, probably going into my junior or senior year, that’s when I grew significantly. At first I was a little short and a little chubby, but I was able to move, I was able to maneuver. My dad [Corey3] was 6-foot-6, so I figured -- at some point -- this thing had to hit. Luckily it did. Lot of work, though. I wasn’t this fit; I put a lot of work into it. I know that’s part of being a professional -- trying to work and work on your body. That’s what got me to this point.
ESPN.com: Did you get to watch your dad play professionally when you were a kid?
Crowder: Yes, that’s who I looked up to. That’s my role model. A lot of people say Michael Jordan and all of that. But Magic Johnson and my dad were my role models.
ESPN.com: Were you old enough to remember him playing in the NBA?
Crowder: I was 4 or 5 years old when he was in San Antonio, but as he started playing overseas in Barcelona and Spain, that’s when I was able to really get in tune with the professional lifestyle and how he worked in the summertime and stuff like that. I was always with him for that.
ESPN.com: What made you decide to go with Jae instead of your given name Corey?
Crowder: People back home -- my dad is from where I’m from, so to separate us two -- you don’t want to call both of us Corey, so everybody started calling me Jae. My mom called me Jae. I’m not a junior4, so that helped, too. I just went with Jae. I like Jae. That’s what I always went with.
ESPN.com: How’s your ankle5?
Crowder: I’ll be ready to go [on Wednesday].
1 The Celtics were 9-14 when they traded Rondo. At the introductory press conference, Crowder said: "That’s what we talked about on the way up here and I still feel like we have a chance to make a push in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs and that’s our goal and that’s how we’re going to influence those guys to keep fighting each and everyday to get better as a unit and see what happens."
2 The Celtics are likely to extend a $1.2 million qualifying offer, but seem likely to explore a contract extension, particularly if other teams make a run at Crowder as a restricted free agent (Boston can match all offers).
3 Corey Crowder played two NBA seasons with the Jazz and Spurs. He also played overseas in Italy, Spain, France, and Israel.
4 His father's name is Jonathan Corey Crowder; the younger is Corey Jae Crowder.
5 Crowder twisted his ankle in Friday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and sat practice Monday. Stevens said the team was holding him out for rest, but there was no doubt he'd play on Wednesday.