The Celtics enter Game 2 of the NBA‘s Eastern Conference semifinals against the Sixers in Boston trailing, 0-1, in a series that figures to go down as a measuring stick for the current state of the roster. Coming off a trip to the NBA Finals and a troublesome offseason, the Celtics are under pressure to again advance through the East and compete for—if not win—the NBA championship.
An early exit will open a Pandora’s box of questions, and the most significant will be the Jaylen Brown question, which comes down to whether, after a few months of cryptic statements concerning his future in Boston, Brown wants to remain a member of the Celtics alongside fellow star Jayson Tatum.
“You know, just last year, everyone was asking, ‘Can Tatum and Brown play together, can these guys co-exist?’” one general manager told Heavy Sports. “But I think that was always the wrong question. Obviously, they can play together. They can succeed, they could win this year. What everyone should be asking instead is, do they want to play together? Mostly, does Jaylen? That’s different than trying to guess whether they can or not.”
Jaylen Brown Has Muddled Future With Celtics
Indeed, Brown’s noncommittal statements about remaining with the Celtics—he is eligible for an extension this summer, and can be a free agent in 2024—figure to put pressure on Boston management to determine what Brown wants to do. If he wants to be elsewhere, his value is undoubtedly high, with Brown having averaged 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 49.1% shooting, all career bests.
In Boston, though, Brown is undoubtedly second fiddle behind Tatum, who finished fourth in this year’s MVP balloting. That’s a problem for Brown, as is the fact that he came up in trade discussions last summer around then-Nets star Kevin Durant. If Brown has designs on being a No. 1 option in the NBA, it’s not going to happen in Boston, where Tatum is cemented in place.
That goes back to the GM’s question—do they want to play together or, more specifically, does Brown want to play behind Tatum?
“No one knows the nature of their relationship other than them but the general view out there is these two are professionals and work well together as professionals but they’re not really tight in the way guys like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are, or like those old Spurs with Manu (Ginobili) and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker,” one Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “That’s cool, though, there are lots of teams like that. Giannis is not supertight with (Khris) Middleton. Kawhi Leonard was not tight with any of those guys in Toronto. But they won. If the Celtics win with Tatum and Brown, a lot of this goes away, and you can win that way.”
Does Jaylen Brown Want to Be a No. 2 Option?
What you can’t do, though, is make everyone happy. Tatum has never taken that many more shots per game than Brown (20.8 per game for Tatum over the last three seasons, to 19.4 for Brown), and their scoring averages are not far off, either (27.9 since 2020-21 for Tatum, and 25.0 for Brown). But the Celtics are undeniably Tatum’s team first.
“Jaylen is 26 years old,” a Western Conference coach told Heavy. “He is maybe the best No. 2 option in the league, or right there with LeBron (James) and AD (Anthony Davis), or Devin Booker-(Kevin) Durant in Phoenix. It is a good thing to be the best No. 2 option but at his age, I don’t think Jaylen sees it that way. He is good enough to be a No. 1 option for half the teams in the league and maybe he wants that challenge.
“There has been some talk about Jaylen and Houston, he could go to Houston and take that team over, be the face of the franchise. The Rockets would love that. But now, I would advise him—and most vets would advise him—stay where you are and play for rings, it is a lot better than being a top dog on a .500 team. But it is hard to tell a young guy to not test himself if that is what he wants to do.”
Rare is the player like, say, Klay Thompson, who embraced the role as Splash Brother No. 2 in Golden State from his rookie year in 2011, following Curry’s lead. Brown could have a similar career to Thompson, but because he does not have the same dynamic with Tatum that Thompson has with Curry, he may not want that, especially if there is no certainty about championships.
“Klay is the right comparison, him and Jaylen are similar in a lot of ways because of their roles if not really for their style of play,” the GM said. “But Klay wants to play with Steph, he sees how working with Steph helps him. And Klay was in the first year of his first big contract (signed in 2014) when the Warriors won a championship. All that affects how you think about these things.
“If the Celtics don’t win this year, then maybe that’s when Jaylen thinks, ‘Am I gonna be the second fiddle for a team that never wins anything?’ And again, it comes down to, does he want to play with Tatum still? Not can they play together or are they buddies or whatever—just, is this what he wants?”