The Celtics Have a Jaylen Brown Problem
The Celtics might have a Jaylen Brown problem
Two All-Star players turned their backs on the Celtics this summer, and yet somehow the grass is pretty green in Boston. The team replaced the disgruntled Kyrie Irving with the beloved Kemba Walker, and has pivoted from an aging Al Horford by fully embracing what is the 5th youngest roster in the league.
This reloaded Celtics club has been the centerpiece of USA Basketball this summer, and fans in Boston and beyond seem plenty content with a new era for the C’s.
Much of this optimism for this season and beyond revolves around Jaylen Brown. An athletic, cerebral wing, Boston’s ultimate ceiling rests in part on the 22-year old’s shoulders.
Brown is eligible for a contract extension this fall, and would otherwise become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2020. What happens next for Jaylen and the Celtics could get complicated.
For the Celtics front office and coaching staff, assessing Jaylen’s ultimate potential is difficult. In his young career, he’s had high-highs and low-lows. For example, after the All-Star break last year, Brown turned in 13 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 25.9 minutes per game on 50.2 percent shooting from the field. And we’re just a few seasons removed from Brown more than holding his own against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In other moments, however, Jaylen has struggled. He can be inconsistent on defense, and lose track of his responsibilities on the court. This, however, is likely a product of age.
Therein lies a problem for the Celtics. As president of basketball operations Danny Ainge explained, Brown has so much growing still to do.
“[Jaylen] came and sat behind me, and he said, ‘Do you think we’re as good as the 1986 Celtics team?’ ” Ainge stated. “And I went, ‘Oh my gosh. He’s so young.’
...It’s hard for him to be patient, but he has been patient. And he continues to work. He’s trying to find ways to get better, and I think Jaylen’s going to be a very good player and has a very bright future.”
None of that is to say Brown has no future in Boston. Far from it, in fact. Many of the most crucial factors that will inform what happens next for Jaylen, though, come from outside the Celtics front office.
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Nothing in the NBA happens in a vacuum. Brown’s next contract will be heavily informed by his peers. At present, Jaylen seems to be on a collision course for an overpay.
Already we’ve seen Jamal Murray and Ben Simmons land huge contract extensions despite limited NBA production. Surely Brown has taken note. Teams will seemingly pay max money for potential.
Caris LeVert’s new deal with Brooklyn, which comes in at around $18 million per year, should be more of a realistic expectation for Brown. But counter-intuitively, it only ups the odds that Brown is set for a big pay day.
The 2020 free agency class was always going to be rather underwhelming. But with Murray, Simmons, LeVert, and now Draymond Green inked to new deals, next summer’s pool has only gotten weaker. Assuming Pascal Siakam comes to terms with Toronto on a deal, Brown may be one of the headliners for summer 2020 in the NBA.
This is where the calculus for Jaylen and the Celtics gets tricky. Anything can happen in a single season, radically altering a player’s value or plans.
For the Celtics, extending Jaylen at a team-friendly deal similar to LeVert would be a way to buy into the team’s young core. Letting the market dictate Brown’s value may be risky, but because he’ll be a restricted free agent, at least the Celtics aren’t at risk of losing the Cal-product outright.
Jaylen, who has declined to hire an agent thus far in his career, could bet on himself and decline an extension if one is offered. With a thin free agent class and some of his peers securing huge bags, there could be big money available to Brown next summer.
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The choice to even offer Brown an extension is bigger than number crunching. For Boston, it could say a lot about this season’s expectations and beyond. Opting to kick the stone down the road until summer may project a lack of confidence from the Celtics BRASS. A vote of confidence in Jaylen, however, could upset Gordon Hayward, whose $34 million player option looms large next summer.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens will have trouble trying to highlight and make happy his team’s best players. Perhaps he opts to go small, to the benefit of Brown, Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Kemba Walker. The wing will be incredibly crowded for Boston next year.
Tatum’s growth could inform Brown’s future as well. He ostensibly regressed last season, but it is assumed he is the next great star for the Celtics. If his rise to power does come to fruition, does Brown compliment Tatum in the right ways? Could Jaylen become a casualty of the much more exciting free agent class of summer 2021? At the same time, Tatum could prove to be more of a bust. What happens to Brown in that scenario?
Unfortunately for Jaylen Brown fans in Boston, his trade value is probably at its highest. He’s on a very team-friendly contract ahead of restricted free agency. The best in the West could try to bring aboard Brown to gain an edge in what will be a bloodbath of a postseason. Up-and-coming teams may try to get a jump on free agency by making a play for Brown early. Already his name has been tied to teams like the Grizzlies and the Knicks.
There’s a lot of goodwill swirling around the Celtics, stemming from a high-profile summer for the club’s stars. Still, Boston has more questions than answers at the moment. Jaylen Brown finds himself at the center of this optimism and amid a very unclear future.