PHOENIX — After a dormant decade, the buzz has returned to downtown Phoenix.
"You've got to understand this is a whole different team," DeAndre Ayton said after the Suns huge win over the Jazz on Wednesday.
Jae Crowder is as good a judge of that as any. The Suns are the 7th team he's played on in nine seasons, and he's been to the playoffs in every season except for his rookie year.
"It feels like it's coming together," Crowder told ABC15. "Every guy in the locker room has just bought in and working hard and just trying to get better each and every day. And that's all you can ask at this point of the season and the way the season is going for us."
Crowder's decision to sign with the Suns this past off-season after coming within two games of capturing an NBA title with the Miami Heat was surprising to many. He re-hashed his decision in a tweet just the other week.
WHEN I MADE MY DECISION TO COME TO PHX EVERYBODY SAID I WAS CRAZY & PHX IS IRRELEVANT AND HAVENT BEEN IN PLAYOFFS IN 10YRS AND I WILL REGRET THIS DECISION.. NOW LOOK AT US.. AND STILL HAVE ALOT OF WORK TO DO.!! 🤫🤐 https://t.co/GnSuSam0xS— JAE CROWDER (@CJC9BOSS) March 29, 2021
So what did he see in the Suns then and now? Not only are they about to end a 10-year playoff drought, but they are knocking on the door of the best record in the NBA.
"A lot of hungry, hungry young players. I felt like Book [Devin Booker] was ready for some important basketball, and I think he's a hell of a talent in our league," Crowder said. "I just felt like I could help. I knew they were building something, and I just felt like what I bring to the table could help this team get to where we should be. So it's been great for me, honestly, to come here and be a part of some special."
They've all got their own roles, and Crowder is the swiss army knife of the group. He can hit the big shot, he can lock down the opposing teams' best player, he brings a veteran toughness, yet is always the one with the biggest smile on his face, bringing energy and mentorship to a young Suns team looking to make a huge leap.
"He has a way about him that allows him to connect with a lot of people," head coach Monty Williams said of Crowder becoming one of the Suns leaders.
How did Crowder get to be that guy? In part because of the mentorship he received from his father, who also played in the NBA.
"Back in junior college, I was the best player on my team and I felt like I could win every game by myself, until it came to a point where I realized that I couldn't," Crowder said. "I had a lot of long talks with my dad about the importance of teammates, and how you need other guys to help you win. When I bought into what my dad was saying, and I actually went out and bought into my teammates and gave energy to my teammates, I won a national championship during junior college. That's no coincidence. Seeing how that can result in winning, being on the same page with your teammates, no matter if you're the best guy on the team or not the best guy on the team, you can always connect with each guy on your team to help grow.
"That's why you see me connect with each guy, no matter if it's the rookies, no matter if it's the oldest guy on the team. I'm connected with them in a special way. And I just feel like that brings the best out of me and my teammates."