There will be understandable sticker shock when many see the four-year, $115 million extension that Jaylen Brown agreed to on Monday afternoon.
While we wait to find out exactly how much of that total is incentivized, there’s no denying that a $28.8 million average annual value is a big number. And while it’s not the full max that fellow 2016 draft class members Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, and Pascal Siakam received, it is significantly more than some other reported deals struck Monday by Buddy Hield (four years, $94 million), Domantas Sabonis (four years, $87 million), and Dejounte Murray (four years, $64 million).
So why did the Celtics splurge this early when they had an ability to match any offer that Brown might have received next summer? Boston’s strategy centers on locking up a player whose future they are bullish on, particularly when the team was unlikely to have cap space to work with in the near-term future.
Some things to remember when digesting the price tag of Monday’s extension:
1) The Celtics already had $69 million in guaranteed contracts next summer and that total could escalate quickly if Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter opt in to the final years of their deals (a combined $39.4 million). Factor in Brown’s $19.6 million cap hold and the Celtics were going to have no cap space without renouncing their rights to Brown. Remember, too, the list of potential free agents was going to be paltry with Brown in line to be the potential gem of the class pending his performance this season. Barring a step back, the Celtics might have had to pay Brown upwards of max money. This deal could end up saving them money in the long term, though Brown certainly hasn’t played to a consistency that would suggest that’s a sure thing yet.
2) The Celtics had a murky path to simply be players in the potentially bountiful free-agent class of 2021. Jayson Tatum will be extension eligible next summer and, even if the Celtics waited on that, he’d carry a $29.7 million cap hold the following summer. Boston has positioned itself to pounce early next offseason and lock up Tatum, essentially committing to a core of Kemba Walker, Tatum, and Brown for the foreseeable future.
3) Boston’s payroll is going to be very top-heavy starting in the 2021-22 season. If Brown and Tatum are both extended by that point, Boston will have nearly $100 million committed to a trio of Walker/Smart/Tatum (and Marcus Smart is on the books for another $14.3 million). The team will be forced to get creative with how to fill out its roster. It puts a premium on draft and development, including of the multi-member rookie class that’s providing end-of-the-roster depth this season.
4) Brown’s salary this season is not impacted. He’ll earn $6.5 million and the Celtics remain well south of the $138.9 million hard cap for landing Walker via sign-and-trade. While the extension makes it hard to see Brown being moved this year (his outgoing salary would factor in extension money), the Celtics still have the flexibility to make other moves this season to alleviate any wing congestion that might develop.
The Celtics are likely hoping that a new deal takes any pressure off Brown and allows his natural abilities — the ones displayed in full during the 2018 playoffs — to shine through in the post-Kyrie era.
Brown has already shown encouraging progress in areas of his game this preseason, from a renewed focus on ball-handling to better court vision to being able to finish with both hands at the basket.
“Jaylen has made tremendous strides over the last three years and has become a fantastic player for us on both ends of the court,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in Boston’s release announcing the extension. “He’s a great person and hard worker who, at 22 years old, can score and defend against the best players in the NBA. Jaylen is a true professional who did a great job accepting his role last season, and he is a major part of our championship goals.”
And the Celtics paid him like someone they believe capable of putting them on a path back to title contention. Boston is splurging more for potential than performance but they’re hoping that — a few years from now — the deal will look far more modest as the league’s top salaries begin to bloat over $40 million per season for veterans on max deals.
The Celtics have done their part in committing to Brown. Now it’s on the player to prove he was worth the investment.
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