NBA Execs Size Up Potential Jaylen Brown Free-Agent Suitors Amid Celtics Uncertainty

Among NBA executives and front-office denizens, the comments made by Celtics star Jaylen Brown to The Ringer, in which Brown was noncommittal about his future with Boston, were not exactly surprising. After all, Brown has repeatedly been mentioned in trade rumors in his seven years with the Celtics and is clearly the second fiddle to fellow star Jayson Tatum.

And, more than that, Brown is known for being tough-willed and for being willing to seek out his own unique path. Downplaying his enthusiasm for remaining with his current team is in character for him.

“Jaylen is a smart man, he kind of sees through some of the BS of the league,” one NBA executive told Heavy Sports. “It would be of no advantage to him to come out and say, ‘Hell yeah, I want to stay in Boston and I’ll sign whatever they give me.’ That might be the popular answer, but he is not going to give the popular answer. Things change fast in the NBA, and who knows where they might be in two years?”

In the Summer of 2024, Brown is expected to hit free agency—unless he signs an extension with Boston before that. He would be eligible for a $290 million, five-year supermax extension if he is chosen for one of the All-NBA teams this season, and he is a bubble candidate to land one of those spots, his selection likely hinging on how much voters ding players like Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Kevin Durant for missing significant time.

If Brown does not sign an extension, he will be a major prize of the 2024 free-agent class, which could lead to his separation from Tatum and the Celtics. Brown told The Ringer of staying in Boston:

If it’s your whole career, it’s your whole career. If it’s not, it’s not. Some of the greatest players of all time haven’t finished with their organization. Michael Jordan retired a Wizard. As much as we like it here and enjoy being here, you see where life takes you. You see how the process goes. All you do is really focus on what’s in front of you right now, to be honest. But I don’t really know or want to answer that question because that type of stuff makes Celtics fans speculate and go crazy.

Hawks Could Be Top Suitor

Even before Brown’s tepid response to staying in Boston, league executives acknowledged that rival teams with 2024 cap space had Brown circled as a potential target—“We’ve got him penciled in for sure,” one told Heavy Sports. “But probably half the league does.”

Or, at least, a sixth. In asking around about potential Brown suitors, five teams came up most frequently.

Atlanta Hawks

This is not a surprise, and if Brown were to leave Boston, a return home to Atlanta makes the most sense. Brown has kept an active hand in the community back in Georgia, and he could view playing for the Hawks as the way to do the most good. He also makes some sense as a two-way star who can fit well with Trae Young and Dejounte Murray (who will also be a free agent in 2024).

“One reason the Hawks are trying to unload (John) Collins is to get that cap space and be in position to add someone, another star, with Trae,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “It is not easy to get free agents to Atlanta but Jaylen Brown would be different—they want to be in position, at least, to make a move if he wants to be there. I think there is not question they are watching the situation with him. Closely.”

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls figure to be in the market for a star-caliber player when 2024 comes around, and by then, they could be ready to pull the plug on the Zach LaVine-DeMar DeRozan pairing. DeRozan hits free agency in 2024.

“The Bulls are really searching for answers but they’re going to have to wait,” one Eastern Conference GM said. “They’re locked into the team they have but they’re also being protective of that cap space going forward—they’ll have a lot in 2024. They will want to be in the mix on anyone they can get in free agency. Brown and LaVine, that makes more sense than LaVine and DeRozan.”

Other Contenders at the Fore

L.A. Clippers

The Clippers are slated to be heading into the first year of their new arena in 2024, and they’ll be in the final years of the contracts of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two stars who have thus far failed to get the Clippers to the NBA Finals. They would need to clear out room for a player like Brown, but they have tradeable assets.

“Would they want to go into their (new) building with the same old tired roster at that point? I don’t think so,” the East exec said. “They’ve been very aggressive every step of the way and if they had to get rid of one of their stars to have a new beginning with a guy like Jaylen Brown, you’d have to think they’d try. That’s a place he could be a No. 1 option and that might be more important to him than people think.”

Milwaukee Bucks

Khris Middleton is 31 and will be a free agent in 2024. Jrue Holiday is 32, and will be in the last year of his contract. The Bucks could be on the hunt for a star player to join Giannis Antetokounmpo for the second half of his NBA career, and Brown would be an ideal fit.

“Giannis is 28 now, and they have to be thinking about who is going to be around him when he is 32, 33 years old,” the GM said. “They need guys in his age bracket. Depending on here the cap lands, they might have to make a move to make it work but they would have a very good pitch to make to Jaylen if he’s available.”

Golden State Warriors

This is an unlikely spot because it would require the Dubs to move on from some combination of Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole or Andrew Wiggins, and that’s hard to fathom. But Brown went to Cal and still has ties to the Bay Area—with a little creativity, the Warriors potentially could get Brown to San Francisco.

“All the NBA teams might march out in protest if that happens,” the NBA executive said. “Like the Warriors have not had enough good fortune. But he’d be a fit there and they could sell him on being the top option as Steph takes more of a back seat. Getting the money to work would be the problem.”