Presumably, we will one day wind up with an NBA offseason. And when that offseason comes, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum figures to become a very wealthy young man.
According to ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst, Tatum is, “very likely,” to get a maximum-contract offer once the league finishes (or declines to finish) the 2019-20 season and we enter the free-agent period. Tatum, the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is currently in the third year of his four-year rookie contract. He was slated to make $7.8 million this year, before the league suspended the season, and $9.9 million.
Any deal the Celtics sign with Tatum will kick in after next year. While it is impossible to say how much the deal would be worth because it will be based on the future salary cap, the contract would have been similar to the five-year, $170 million contracts signed by 2016 draftees Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray last summer. But that was before the novel coronavirus pandemic struck.
Jayson Tatum was a First-Time All-Star
Still, however the cap numbers work out, Tatum will get a sizable payday and it is no surprise that it would be a maximum offer from the Celtics. At age 22 (and he only turned 22 in March), Tatum has established himself as one of the brightest young stars in the game, earning his first spot on the All-Star team this year.
Tatum averaged 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds this season, making 44.8% of his shots and 39.8% of his 3-point attempts. And he’d gotten better as the season went on, sparking hopes that he could carry the Celtics into a deep playoff run. Tatum had averaged 28.6 points over the last 20 games he played before the season suspension.
After Tatum tied a career-high with 41 points against the Lakers in Los Angeles, a game in which he shot 12-for-20 from the field, Lakers star LeBron James posted a photo of him next to Tatum on Instagram and wrote, “That boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!!”
“The kid is special,” James later told reporters. “Obviously that’s a reason he’s a first-time All-Star, and he’s been special all year.”
Celtics Will Pay Big $$$ to Stars
A max contract for Tatum, one that kicks in for the 2021-22 season, would give the Celtics a packed payroll. The team is committed to point guard Kemba Walker for $36 million that year, just ahead of his $37.6 million player option in 2022-23, the final year of his contract.
It also has Jaylen Brown, who signed an extension last summer, on the books. Brown will be in the second year of his four-year extension that pays him $103 million total. He will make $25 million in the year Tatum’s contract kicks in.
Marcus Smart will be on the books for $14 million. Tatum’s deal, if it were to be close to what Simmons and Murray got, would begin at close to $30 million. But the post-COVID-19 economic landscape in the NBA will likely knock that number down. Even if it lands at about $27 million, the Celtics would be paying four players about $92 million.
That does not factor in the decision Gordon Hayward and the Celtics will make this offseason. Hayward can opt out of the final year of his contract and, if he does so, he likely will try to resign a long-term deal in Boston once the season ends. Or he can opt in for the final year (a good bet, considering that year is worth $34.7 million) and become a free agent in 2021.
If he opts out and the team re-signs him this offseason, the Celtics would be looking at about $115-120 million in salary — putting them over the salary cap for just five players.