How COVID-19 pandemic could affect Jayson Tatum's max contract offer from Celtics

How COVID-19 pandemic could affect Jayson Tatum's max contract offer from Celtics

For the next three weeks, NBC Sports Boston will be looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the economics of sports. First up: its potential impact on the Celtics offering Jayson Tatum a max contract.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all NBA teams to re-evaluate how they plan to spend their money on players now and in the near future. 

But there are some decisions that, well, fall into the category of “duh … of course we’re going to do that!”

Like whether the Boston Celtics are going to back up the Brinks truck and offer Jayson Tatum a max-salaried contract extension this offseason. 

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The thought that Boston would even hesitate — let alone not put such a deal on the table — is comical in most circles. 

That’s why Portland’s CJ McCollum (among others) got a good chuckle out of a report that the Celtics would “most likely” offer the 22-year-old Tatum a multi-year, max contract this summer. 

Even at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all NBA teams to take a closer look at their financial books, Boston’s desire to lock up Tatum to a long-term deal has never changed. 

That sustained commitment, fueled by him being one hell of a player, is why the Celtics are expected to make Tatum the highest-paid Celtics player ever. 

“Locking him up to a max deal, that’s gotta be the easiest decision Danny (Ainge, Boston’s President of Basketball Operations) has had to make, like ever,” an Eastern Conference General Manager told NBC Sports Boston. “The talent, his age, the success he’s already had both for himself and for the team, the relationship he has with Jaylen (Brown) who we all know Danny loves … unless there’s some issue that none of us know about which I don’t think there is, there’s just no scenario I can think of that’ll keep them from putting a max offer on the table for Jayson.”

But what will that offer look like? 

That’s where things can get interesting, and why the importance of concluding the season has significant roster-building implications for the Celtics as well as future earnings power for Tatum. 

While Tatum has been one of the best players in the league since the All-Star break, there’s no guarantee he will pick up where he left off prior to the league being suspended March 12. 

And like the handful of players from his 2017 draft class in line for max or near-max contracts, Tatum has also taken the extra step of looking into additional league-sponsored insurance in case of an injury suffered upon the league’s ramped-up return with games reportedly scheduled to begin as early as July 30.

Taking added precautions makes a lot of sense for Tatum, whose extension wouldn’t kick in until the 2021-2022 season which has a projected salary cap of $125 million. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the NBA to suspend play March 12 with the season expected to resume in late July or early August, has dealt a major blow to the league in terms of revenue generated. 

And that affects the bottom line, including what teams can pay players and — just as notable — the salary cap. 

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The salary cap for the 2020-21 season was projected to be $115 million (down from an earlier estimate of $116 million), but is expected to be closer to the 2019-2020 cap of $109.1 million mark. 

For the 2021-2022 season, the first year of a Tatum extension, it’s too soon to know if the league will bounce back with a salary cap that’s close to the projected $125 million figure. 

But even if the salary cap came in below $125 million, it would take a significant drop from that before Tatum would realistically consider not signing a max extension because of a lower-than-expected salary cap. 

A five-year deal with a salary cap of $125 million would pay Tatum $181.25 million.

The first-year salary of such a deal would be $31.25 million, with an eight percent raise ($2.5 million) each of the remaining years. 

If the salary cap that year were just $120 million, Tatum’s adjusted five-year deal would be worth $174 million with an annual raise of $2.4 million. 

A drop? Yes.

But significant enough to pass up signing a long-term max deal? Unlikely. 

However, a lowered salary cap would impact Boston’s financial flexibility when Tatum’s new deal kicked in. 

Tatum’s base salary for the 2021-2022 season of $31.25 million along with the salaries of Jaylen Brown ($24.8 million) and Kemba Walker ($36.1 million), would account for nearly 75 percent of the team’s salary cap — and that’s with the cap being $125 million. That would put a heavy reliance on adding talent via the draft and free agency with limited resources. 

Tatum’s camp will consider all options, but there have been no signs of them being interested in anything other than a long-term, max-salaried contract. 

His next deal could be even better if he achieves certain end-of-the-season accomplishments such as being named to one of the All-NBA teams.

And the way he played following the All-Star break has made Tatum a legit candidate for postseason honors. 

Prior to the break, Tatum averaged 22.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from 3-point range. 

Pretty good, right?

But after the break, Tatum took his game to another stratosphere with a slew of out-of-this-world performances. 

He averaged 29.9 points per game following the All-Star break, along with 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while connecting on 47.2 percent of his shots from the field and a sweltering 46.8 percent of his 3’s. 

An All-NBA selection would make him eligible for a five-year extension that would pay him up to 30 percent of the salary cap, better known as the Derrick Rose rule. 

For players with Tatum’s number of years in the league who don’t meet the Derrick Rose rule criteria, teams are limited in paying them up to 25 percent of the salary cap. 

To put in perspective how big a jump that would be, a “Derrick Rose rule” contract for Tatum would be a five-year deal worth $217.5 million. In the final year of the deal when he would be 27 years old and presumably at or near his peak as a player, it would pay him $49.5 million. 

That’s a boat load of money by anyone’s standards for sure. 

But when you look at where Tatum is talent-wise, the potential he has shown to improve and the role that he now serves with the team and will continue to grow into going forward, a max contract offer from Boston — no matter how the bottom line has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — is a given. 

Jayson Tatum, Celtics officially playoff ready after win vs. Grizzlies

Jayson Tatum, Celtics officially playoff ready after win vs. Grizzlies

Jayson Tatum, sporting some sort of cyborg, choke-sign Reggie Miller T-shirt that Indiana native Brad Stevens would certainly approve of, plopped down in a chair for his postgame Zoom conference Tuesday night and was asked to assess Boston’s postseason preparedness.

"I think we’re ready,” Tatum declared, hammering home what Boston’s play over the past four games had already confirmed.

The Celtics can comfortably put their core players in, ahem, bubble wrap for Thursday’s seeding-game finale against the Washington Wizards. Everything has fallen into place for Boston over the past week, not the least of which is August Tatum playing like February Tatum while scoring a game-high 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting over 29 minutes as the Celtics handed a desperate Grizzlies team a 122-107 loss on Tuesday night.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Wizards, which begins Thursday at 11 a.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at noon. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Celtics, sluggish and rust-filled early in the bubble experience, have clicked on most cylinders the past seven days. The ball has zipped around the court, the team displaying increased ball movement and highlight-quality passing that has keyed Boston’s offensive surge, which includes owning the second best offensive rating in the bubble (120.3, trailing only playoff-pushing Portland).

When one of Boston’s usual offensive weapons has had a rough night, others have stepped forward. Case in point: As Jaylen Brown labored through a 3-for-13 shooting performance Tuesday, Gordon Hayward — his bubble alter ego Stache Gordon slowly emerging — shook off his own 3-point woes to put up 19 points behind four triples. Tatum hit some absurdly tough shots (negating his five turnovers) and Kemba Walker showed more signs of being back to the All-Star form from the start of the season.

Walker put a Grizzlies defender on skates with a ruthless jab-step pull-up late in the fourth quarter. Later he noted, "Today is probably the best I’ve felt out there. I was really comfortable making my moves and stuff like that.” The next time Walker plays, the minute restriction that caused some of Boston’s early bubble turbulence will be a thing of the past. And it’s no coincidence that, as that restriction loosened, Boston started to find its groove.

Boston’s net rating inside the bubble is now plus-10.3, second only to the undefeated Phoenix Suns. The next closest Eastern Conference team is Toronto at plus-3.7.

“We’ve definitely come a long way, and we’re gelling really well,” said Walker. "Having fun, competing at a very high level.”

Not only has Boston’s core players looked ready to go but the team has found a little something in its complementary pieces as well. Second-year big man Robert Williams, who did little to kick down the playing-time door during scrimmage work, has been a revelation the past four games. He went from not getting off the bench in Boston’s early seeding games to putting together four straight eyebrow-raising efforts. In that span, Williams has averaged 11.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks over 14.8 minutes per game. He’s made 19 of his 23 shot attempts (82.6 percent) with many of his finishes coming north of the rim.

Stevens' bench, once perilously thin, looks like it can confidently lean on at least four options in the postseason. Smart and Brad Wanamaker will handle backup guard minutes while Williams and Enes Kanter should split center reps based on matchups. Stevens can mix in the occasional doses of Semi Ojeleye or Grant Williams or Romeo Langford on nights he must go deeper.

The Celtics have proven they can hang with the best of the Eastern Conference, putting a scare into Milwaukee despite spotting them a big early lead early in scrimmage play, and taking down Toronto at the height of their bubble buzz.

A matchup with injury-battered Philadelphia seems inevitable to open the playoffs. The Sixers still have plenty of talent, including old friend Al Horford, but the absence of Ben Simmons, and some uncertainty about the health of Joel Embiid, makes Philadelphia a far more agreeable foe than maybe it seemed even a week ago.

Boston’s improved level of play has helped boost the team’s confidence as well, regardless of first-round opponent.

“Obviously, we continue to get better, and I think we have from Game 1 playing down here to now,” said Tatum. "I think we just continue to get better each and every game, and that’s what you want this time of year, to continue to get better at the right time of the season.”

Barring the bizarre during Thursday’s matinee finale, the Celtics will head into the postseason playing some inspired ball and operating with a contender’s confidence.

The last four games haven’t been perfect but the Celtics have shown their potential during them. With Stevens’ ability to hone in on an opponent and an added level of focus required by the postseason, Boston has a chance to take its play even a level higher.

The last four games have shown that the Celtics are ready for what’s next.

Stars, Studs and Duds from Celtics' impressive win over Grizzlies

Stars, Studs and Duds from Celtics' impressive win over Grizzlies

With the No. 3 spot locked up and no chance of moving up or down, there was not a ton of incentive for the Boston Celtics in their next-to-last seeding game, against the Memphis Grizzlies.

But you would have thought it was the Celtics -- not the Grizzlies -- who were playing for their postseason lives.

This Celtics team has shown itself to be more than just one of the best teams talent-wise we’ve seen since Brad Stevens took over in 2013.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Wizards, which begins Thursday at 11 a.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at noon. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Watching the way this group has grown throughout the season and even more so during the league’s restart in Orlando, Fla., the Celtics have shown a level of focus on the task at hand – winning games – that has allowed them to not just survive in the Bubble but thrive against any and all the competition.

The latest to fall by the wayside against the Celtics was the Grizzlies, who were no match for Boston as the Celtics pulled away for a comfortable 122-107 win.

It was a performance that like so many we’ve seen of late from Boston, consisted of players stepping up to contribute in a multitude of ways.

And the Grizzlies, one of the feel-good stories of the season, were unable to make it much of a game.

Jayson Tatum: Memphis became the latest team that simply had no answer on how to contain Tatum. He led all scorers with 29 points in addition to grabbing six rebounds.

Ja Morant: For most of this season, Morant has been the best first-year player in the NBA. You can chalk up Tuesday’s game as yet another strong performance by Morant who led the Grizzlies with a double-double of 26 points and 13 assists.

Kemba Walker: After a rough game against Orlando, Walker bounced back with an efficient game with 19 points coming on 7-for-10 shooting to go with four rebounds and three assists. 

Marcus Smart: He put up a near double-double of 11 points and nine assists, but Smart’s impact was so much greater. His floor leadership, attention to detail, defense, intensity ... Smart brought it all to the floor and the Celtics were so much better off for it.

Jonas Valenciunas: If there’s one area of concern for the Celtics going forward, it has been the ability of opposing big men to put up big games with most of their work getting done around the rim. Valenciunas had a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Robert Williams III: The days of being in and out of the lineup because of ineffective play or injuries appear to be behind Williams. He didn’t play a ton of minutes but Williams once again made his mark, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in just 14 minutes of court time.

Brandon Clarke: The play of Clarke is one of the many reasons why the Grizzlies feel their best days are ahead of them. Clarke had 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting to go with six rebounds and a blocked shot.

Daniel Theis
: One of the not-so-bright spots for Boston was the play of Theis who had two points on 1-for-3 shooting along with struggles defensively.