NBA Execs Talk Teams That Could Steal Celtics Superstar in Free Agency

Jaylen Brown, right, with fellow Celtics star Jayson Tatum and coach Ime Udoka

Getty Jaylen Brown, right, with fellow Celtics star Jayson Tatum and coach Ime Udoka

There is plenty of reason to believe that, despite a tumultuous offseason spent as an unwilling headliner on the NBA’s trade-rumor mill, Celtics star Jaylen Brown has no intentions of ditching Boston, and Boston has no intention of ditching him. Ultimately, the Celtics chose not to seriously pursue a trade that would send out Brown for Nets malcontent Kevin Durant, and Brown will head to camp at the end of next month still playing for one of the league’s championship favorites.

But, there may, too, be reasons for concern when it comes to Brown’s future. The Celtics would like to secure his services by giving him a contract extension this offseason, but the problem is, that’s unlikely to happen. Under league rules, the Celtics are capped at what they can offer Brown via an extension, a deal beginning at $34.2 million in 2024-25.

If Brown waits and signs a max deal that summer, though, he will get a contract starting at 30% of the total salary cap. Should the cap land around $140 million as most expect, that puts Brown’s annual salary starting at $42 million (more if he makes one more All-NBA team). It behooves Brown to wait.

Of course, in waiting, Brown leaves Celtics fans exposed to some level of anxiety around a potential departure. That’s not only because some feel Brown has been personally insulted by his reported inclusion in Durant talks, but also because there is, as of now, a sizable list of teams with the potential for max-contract cap space in 2024.

Some logical matches for Brown are just too unlikely to have money, like the Knicks, Grizzlies or Suns. That can easily change, though, just as the situations for the teams projected to have cap space can change, too.

But who should frighten the Celtics as potential Brown suitors? Heavy Sports checked in with two league executives on what might be called a Scary 6 for Boston.

Hometown, LeBron & Riley: Big 2024 Lures Are Out There

Atlanta Hawks. It’s no secret that Brown is a proud Atlanta native, and drove back to the city to help lead protests during the post-George Floyd marches in the late spring of 2020. When he was on the verge of becoming a restricted free agent in 2019, the Hawks were primed to lure him back home. His commitment to Boston as a community has long been strong, and as a city, Atlanta might be the only place higher on his list. The Hawks would somehow have to shed Clint Capela’s deal ($22.7 million in 2024-25) or, maybe, pull off a move of John Collins to have space for a max contract, but they’re not far off from being in position to make a run at Brown.

Eastern Conference executive: “They’ve been after more two-way players in recent years, because signing up a few big names around Trae Young has not worked out. We’ll have to see what they do with (De’Andre) Hunter and (Onyeka) Okongwu because they will need extensions but if they can clear out the room, that’s probably the biggest team to worry the Celtics.”

Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers will be in an odd position in 2024, still sitting on the Bird rights of both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but this time they will do so with both guys looking at advancing age, unknown futures and upcoming player options. However unlikely, it’s at least theoretically possible that the Lakers could go into the summer of 2024 without a single contract on the books. Either way, they should have money to spend. James and Davis could allow the Lakers to first sign Brown, then re-up with the Lakers thereafter.

Eastern Conference exec: “Obviously, a star comes up when the Lakers have cap space and there is going to be that speculation. There are players who want to play for the Lakers because they’re the Lakers and they’re in L.A., but I don’t think Brown is an L.A. guy that way. It’s more just because he’d want to play with LeBron, if LeBron was going to stay there, if Davis stays healthy, if they are back to competing in the West and not just trying to make a play-in. That’s the lure for anyone in that free-agent class.”

Miami Heat. Brown has been involved in two tense playoff series against Miami, the first coming in the East finals in the Orlando bubble in 2020, which the Heat won, and the second coming again in the conference finals this past spring, won by Boston. He certainly has the kind of two-way bulldog approach that appeals to the Heat and would make a sensible running partner for Jimmy Butler. The big issue: What would Miami do about Duncan Robinson (who is only in Year 2 of a $90 million, five-year deal) and Tyler Herro (who is extension eligible this summer)? The only way to get a major free agent to Miami in 2024 is to have those two off the books.

Eastern Conference GM: “He’d fit right in there, wouldn’t he? He has that same worker mentality as a guy like Udonis (Haslem), a guy like Jimmy (Butler), a guy like (Bam) Adebayo and Spo (coach Erik Spoelstra) loves that kind of player. They have shown their creativity in the past in getting the cap space they need but this would be a different situation. They would not have the wink-wink deals they had with LeBron (James) and Chris Bosh (in 2010) so there would be some danger in dumping guys to go after free agents. But they have Pat Riley and as long as he is not retired, he makes you worry because he is a really, really good recruiter.”

Luka, Jo & the Cavs: The Longshots

Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks currently have only about $85 million committed in 2024-25, which gives them ample room to make a max-deal run at Brown. Dallas could draw his interest if it keeps fellow Cal Bear Jason Kidd on as coach, and if star guard Luka Doncic develops individually while keeping the team a contender without a real No. 2 star on board.

Eastern Conference GM: “At some point, they’re going to have to stop trying to hit doubles and go for the home run if they want a guy they can put with Luka. They don’t have a lot to work with for assets, they just don’t. So it is going to be very hard to trade for someone, but they can maybe do themselves some favors in free agency if they can be patient and convince Luka to be patient. There’s not a lot there in 2023, so 2024 is their best choice and Brown will be the best guy there. There are other guys—(Pascal) Siakam, (Khris) Middleton—so you have some backup plans. But at some point, you’ve got to try to get that star.”

Philadelphia Sixers. If there is any doubt about a favorite Celtics turning back-stabber and bolting to the nemesis Sixers, it was erased by Al Horford’s shocking 2019 escape to Philly, which turned into a disaster for all sides. But if Joel Embiid has still held up physically by this point, and if the Sixers have not broken the bank on keeping James Harden (the NBA is investigating his recent pay-cut agreement with the team) and extending Tyrese Maxey, it’s possible they could have enough room to add another star.

Eastern Conference GM: “They’d have to finesse it just right to have space in 2024. How much are they willing to pay Maxey? Do they deal him first? The NBA is looking at the deal they have with Harden, and they’re going to have to be very careful with what happens next with him. Does he just opt in next year to get the league off their backs on that? That could be a break for them. My guess is they will want to do something with a trade, they’re not going to wait for free agency. It’s a narrow path to having money in 2024 for them. But after the Horford thing, I bet Boston would be on its toes there.”

Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs were a darkhorse potential threat to the Celtics when Boston was deciding whether to give Brown an extension back in 2019, hoping to try to pluck him in restricted free agency the following summer. They’d still be a darkhorse in 2024, but in a much better position, with developing stars (Darius Garland) at point guard and (Evan Mobley) at power forward. Cleveland’s cap space could hinge on what the team does with Isaac Okoro, who will be due a new contract by 2024.

East exec: “They have done a good job drafting, a good job signing role players, the front office is solid, the coaching staff. They got thrown off course last year, they’ve got to come back a little mentally stronger. But if they do, and they keep that cap space open, they could be a player on that (2024) market. It’s tough, they might take a short-term view and try to maximize the roster even if it costs you future space. But they could be just turning into a real contender when they have money to spend.”


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