NBA Rumors: Celtics put Aron Baynes on trade block to clear cap space

NBA Rumors: Celtics put Aron Baynes on trade block to clear cap space

Aron Baynes is staying with the Boston Celtics ... or so we thought.

The Celtics are making the veteran center available via trade in an effort to clear cap space, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday morning.

Baynes exercised the $5.4 million player option on his 2019-20 contract with the Celtics just eight days ago. But much has changed since then, with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford now expected to sign elsewhere in free agency.

Those developments could mean a change of course for the Celtics, who now seem keen on freeing up cap space to pursue other top-tier talent, and Baynes, who wants to play with a contender one way or the other at age 32.

If the C's trade Baynes and Horford and Marcus Morris (an unrestricted free agent) both walk, it would leave Boston with essentially no frontcourt depth outside rookie Robert Williams and would signal further change on a club that may look a lot different later this summer.

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Celtics' Jaylen Brown is smart to bank on himself for next contract

Celtics' Jaylen Brown is smart to bank on himself for next contract

That Jaylen Brown is not interested now in a reported four-year, $80 million extension offer from Boston Celtics is not surprising.

Brown is eligible for a five-year extension worth up to roughy $170 million based on the league's salary-cap projections. The Celtics can also offer Brown a four-year pact worth up to a maximum of roughly $130 million.

Any extension would start with the 2020-2021 season and neither player nor team should be in a particular rush to hammer out a deal. The Celtics can extend a modest offer knowing that Brown is in line to be a restricted free agent next summer and the team will have the opportunity to match any deal he might receive. Brown can bank on himself knowing that a solid fourth-year season could drive his price tag way up.

Brown, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft, is scheduled to earn $6.5 million this season. The Celtics can extend an $8.5 million qualifying offer next summer which will position Brown to test those often murky waters of restricted free agency.

The Celtics have a long history of treading cautiously with rookie extensions, having not completed one since Rajon Rondo in 2009. Boston routinely offers aggressive-but team-friendly deals that players have been reluctant to pounce on.

Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray are the only two members of the 2016 draft class to have negotiated maximum-salary extensions, with their respective teams essentially designating them as franchise cornerstones. That’s not to say that the Celtics don’t view Brown in the same light; they are simply putting a premium on cap flexibility while knowing they have options regardless of how the 2019-20 season plays out.

Scoff if you’d like at the notion that Brown considers himself more than a $20 million-per-year player given what he’s displayed through his first three NBA seasons. The reality is that rookie extensions are negotiated based on what a player should become and not what they are in the moment.

Brown can bet on himself knowing that the 2020 free agent class projects as one of the weakest in recent memory. Not only have Simmons and Murray already inked extensions, Draymond Green signed a four-year, $100 million extension with the Golden State Warriors this summer. That leaves Brown as one of the glitziest young names available, maybe only behind Pascal Siakam.

Many NBA teams will look to save their pennies for the potentially bountiful 2021 free agent class. The 2020 market only becomes more robust if Anthony Davis opts out and elects not to re-sign in L.A., or if Gordon Hayward opts out of the final year of his current Celtics pact in hopes of a bigger deal.

Even if Brown shows limited advancement next season, someone will almost certainly offer him a deal in the neighborhood of four years, $80 million. There are more than 50 players in the NBA this season making $20+ million. What Brown displayed in the 2018 playoffs is tantalizing enough for teams to splurge on a player who turns just 23 later this month.

Remember that the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. eventually got maximum-salary extensions, so teams will spend on the mere hope of what a player might eventually become.

While the Celtics could splurge on Brown now, it’s not the worst thing for the player to have some additional motivation to prove himself. Yes, players can sometimes press too hard in contract years, but Brown handled last year’s train wreck of a season better than most anybody else on the Celtics’ roster and that bodes well for how he’ll respond this season even as he attempts to establish himself as a star.

The reported four-year, $80 million offer is likely just a starting point for the Celtics. The team might be willing to creep higher but Brown, who recently hired Al Horford’s agent, might ultimately be content to wait until next year in hopes of maximizing his payday.

What the Celtics elect to spend next summer might be dictated by Hayward’s future. A bounce-back year could encourage Hayward to opt out and seek a monster payday now with 10 years of NBA service. Conversely, if Hayward struggles again, the team must decide what to do with him set to earn $34.2 million in the final year of his deal.

Remember, too, the Celtics must brace themselves to offer Jayson Tatum a potential maximum salary extension next summer as well.

Boston can get a gauge on Brown’s development early this season and then either ready itself for the financial commitment it will require to keep him, or examine trade possibilities.

Remember that a player not agreeing to an extension doesn’t necessarily mean they will walk after the season. Marcus Smart turned down a strong offer and got slightly more money from the Celtics the summer after. Boston moved Terry Rozier to Charlotte in a sign-and-trade and recouped assets for his departure.

Brown has repeatedly stressed he wants to “just play basketball” this year and not get caught up in any drama.

"To be honest, I haven’t put too much thought into [an extension],” Brown said on Media Day last month. "I’m not losing any sleep over it. I think stuff like that will end up working itself out in the end, or however. 

"So I’m just focused on this season and playing basketball. I think that’s my No. 1 emphasis, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Key numbers that defined Celtics preseason>>>>>

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Brad Stevens praises Adam Silver for handling of NBA-China tensions

Brad Stevens praises Adam Silver for handling of NBA-China tensions

The NBA and China aren't in a good place right now.

Neither are players like LeBron James, who's gotten backlash for indirectly siding with China in a feud ignited by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet about protests in Hong Kong.

Brad Stevens doesn't seem to share James' opinion, though. The Boston Celtics coach sided with the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday when asked about the league's ongoing tensions with China.

"I'm glad we have Adam Silver to lead the league," Stevens told 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" in his weekly interview. "Obviously, after Daryl's tweet, I thought the most important thing that Adam could say and that we and the league could say is that we value the freedom of expression.

"The NBA's been big on that, and the way that he's handled that and the way that he's basically said, 'We're not going to regulate what people say. It's part of what we all believe.' I think is really important. I agree with him."

Stevens' comments also are an endorsement of Morey, whose tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong has led several businesses and state-run offices in China -- which has sovereignty over the coastal state -- to cut ties with the NBA.

"I haven't paid attention to everybody's talk and quotes since then," Stevens added. "I'm not going to pretend like I was a political expert on China prior to whatever day that was when it all came out. But I appreciate (Adam's) leadership and certainly have been reading and learning and trying to get up to speed with everything."

Stevens hardly is going out on a limb by supporting free speech. But he's still offering more of an opinion on the thorny issue than some of his contemporaries -- notably Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who essentially declined to comment when the controversy first started.

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