Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown could well have as much untapped talent as any young player in the NBA. He was brought along slowly in his first year in Boston and has not had the opportunity to show his full potential as the Celtics have stocked the roster with free-agent talent like Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward (along with, now, Kemba Walker).
That makes the next four weeks somewhat awkward for Brown and the Celtics, who have until October 21 to agree to a contract extension. According to a league source, “the chance is pretty slim” that Brown signs a long-term deal with the team in the coming month. Around the league, the expectation is that Brown and the Celtics won’t come to a deal.
Brown would still be under contract for this season, at $6.5 million (that would be the case even with the extension). He would become a restricted free agent next summer, which means Boston would still control his rights and be able to match any contract offer he received.
Jaylen Brown’s Value Difficult to Gauge
Three other players from the 2016 NBA Draft class have received contract extensions already. Two, Ben Simmons of the Sixers and Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, have gotten max deals, which will be in the range of five years and $170 million. Caris LeVert of the Brooklyn Nets signed a deal last month worth $52 million over three years.
Part of the issue for Brown and the Celtics is determining his value. A case can be made he deserves a max contract considering he very well may have that level of talent. But because of Boston’s crowded rotation — Brown figures to be the fourth option offensively — he has never produced max-contract numbers.
Brown averaged 13.0 points and 4.2 rebounds last season shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from the 3-point line. That puts him in line with Levert’s numbers and, certainly, a deal in the $17-$18 million per year range is reasonable.
But Brown has shown he can do more, too and the 2018 playoffs were his coming out party. For 18 games over that stretch with both Irving and Hayward injured, he averaged 18.8 points and 4.8 rebounds, making 46.6 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from the 3-point line. He’s also an excellent defender who can produce on both sides of the floor.
That might not put him on a max level of $34 million per year on average. But Brown’s camp sees his value as closer to what Simmons and Murray got than what LeVert did.
The Celtics Just Don’t Do Extensions
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this has been a consistent theme for the Celtics heading into training camps. The team has drafted well in recent years and after each draftee’s third year in the league, it becomes time to size up whether to give an extension.
Boston just has not done that recently, choosing instead to let restricted free agency play out or to simply let their young players walk. In 2015, the team had Jared Sullinger, after his best NBA season, up for an extension, but Sullinger’s agent would later say a deal was, “never an option.” Sullinger signed with the Toronto Raptors the following summer.
In 2016, it was former lottery pick Kelly Olynyk. The sides had so little discussion of a contract extension that when the deadline hit, Olynyk was not even aware of it until he was told by reporters. Olynyk signed with the Miami Heat in 2017.
Ahead of the 2017-18 season, Marcus Smart and Boston had substantive discussions about a contract extension but never got close to a deal. And that experience shows why the Celtics typically take the no-extension tack. Smart wanted something in the range of what Denver’s Gary Harris got (four years, $84 million) while the Celtics were thinking more Norman Powell of the Raptors (four years, $42 million).
When Smart could not get a generous offer the following summer, he signed a four-year, $52 million deal with Boston — much more on the Powell side of the ledger.
The Celtics also did not come close to signing Terry Rozier to an extension last season. Rozier left for the Hornets this summer.
Jaylen Brown Could Get a Max Offer Next Summer
There’s a chance that approach could backfire with Brown, though. He is highly regarded around the league, will turn 23 in a month and could have star potential.
“It only takes one team to think he is a max player and then he is a max player,” one NBA front-office executive said. “You don’t see a lot of max deals in restricted free agency and the Celtics can match, so it’s still something that can work in their favor. But there will be teams with money next summer and making an offer for a guy his age, with his best basketball in front of him, makes sense.”
That’s a factor for the Celtics to consider, too. Next year’s free-agent class is especially weak. Rebuilding teams like Toronto, Memphis and Cleveland will have cap space, and Brown could be a featured player on rosters like those.
If he hits restricted free agency, Brown figures to warrant a deal closer to the max than to LeVert — a reason that Brown, rather than the Celtics, might not want to agree to an extension. He could shortchange himself.
But that’s next summer. For now, the Celtics and Brown will careen toward the extension deadline. A deal could happen, but it’s not expected.