After a promising second season where Jaylen Brown seemed to start putting everything together, a regression in his third year left the Cal product’s future on less stable ground, at least financially.
Brown, over 74 appearances in 2018-19, averaged 13.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the floor and 34.4 percent from beyond the arc. According to Value Over Replacement Player, a cumulative measure that estimates the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributes over a replacement-level player, Brown was a +0.0 on the season (a replacement-level player is a -2.0), while according to Win Shares, Brown was a +3.0, putting him 153rd in the league in that statistic.
So all in all, be it through advanced or raw metrics, it’s clear to see that it was a mediocre campaign for the now almost-23-year-old.
And it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Brown, as this offseason, the Boston Celtics are free to offer him a rookie-scale extension that could be worth up to $170 million. Obviously, at this point, if Brown and the Celtics do come to terms on a deal, it probably won’t be worth anywhere near that much.
But what do league executives polled by HoopsHype have to say on the matter?
One Eastern Conference general manager who spoke to HoopsHype believes Brown will get his extension, but added a word of caution afterwords: “I would guess that the Celtics will try to do an extension with Brown, but I don’t think they’ll give him a max right now by any stretch of the imagination. But they’ll try to get something done. And if that doesn’t work out, Brown will go into restricted free agency. But the interesting thing with the Celtics is that they need to start planning for Jayson Tatum too. That’s approaching. (He’s eligible for a rookie-scale extension next summer). Brown is obviously part of their puzzle, though. Boston needs to find out what he’s looking for and see if it makes sense.”
The issue with Brown hitting restricted free agency next summer as opposed to getting an extension now is the weakness of next offseason’s crop of free agents. As is, we rank him as the fifth-best player in next year’s class of available players, and that could rise if Pascal Siakam (huge possibility) or DeMar DeRozan (decently possible) get extensions prior to the regular season, or if Brown blows up in 2019-20.
That would leave Boston in a pickle as far as re-signing him, since they’d be juggling big money between he and his partner on the wing, Tatum.
Another Eastern Conference executive further expounded on that: “The Celtics may be thinking that they don’t want to give a max deal to their third-best player, but Jaylen Brown may be thinking that he can be the top free agent next summer if he has a big year. Brown could play his way into a max contract. He’s going to have a bigger role than ever before with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Marcus Morris gone, and next summer’s free-agent class is weak. If he does play his way into a max deal, Boston can match since he’ll be restricted. I think if you’re the Celtics, you try see if he’d do something around $20 million [per year], but if you want him to be part of your core long-term and want to lock him in, it may make sense to give him more. Boston may be comfortable saying, ‘We’ll give you something around $25 million [per year] now to sort of get a discount and not pay the max.’ And Brown really could be the top free agent available next summer, so I could see the argument for giving him the max.”
No matter what, a player of Brown’s skill set should provide value in the modern NBA.
He can defend, and multiple positions, at that; he has prototypical size (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) for a wing; he can space the floor from three, maybe not at an exceptional rate, but at least adequately; he runs the floor on every play in transition; and, most importantly, he plays hard every minute he’s out on the floor.
So although anything near the max would probably be an overpay, at least the Celtics can rest easy knowing that no amount of money will change how much effort Brown exerts, nor will it change how impactful he often is on both ends of the floor.
On the other hand, Boston doesn’t want to get themselves stuck with a bad contract just because they’re worried about Brown hitting restricted free agency next year.
Here’s what one Western Conference coach had to say about that: “Jaylen Brown is in a tough spot. The group of guys that he has around him will play a part in this. I don’t think that his talent level is worthy of a max contract, especially on that roster and with those guys around him. That plays such a big part when it comes time for teams to make that kind of investment. A lot of times, teams will give that big contract anyway because they know they could always move it – that plays a part too – but if his production or role decrease for any reason, it makes that deal very tough to move.”
To be worth the max, with Tatum set to get a rich contract himself next summer, the Celtics would have to be sure that he and Brown can be building-block members of a contender at some point over the courses of their contracts. And as of right now, it doesn’t exactly look like that’ll be the case, not with the lack of forward steps the two wings took in 2018-19.
There was a point in time where Brown, back when he was in the early stages of his rookie-scale deal and appeared to be on an upward trajectory, was considered either an elite or a near-elite asset. But if Boston signs him to a huge extension this offseason, that’ll go out the window, tilting towards him turning into a negative asset, unless he takes a big-time step forward in the next few seasons.
That’s all to say: Perhaps the most prudent move for the Celtics would be to let Brown play out his contract, just to see how he and Tatum do in 2019-20 when the team will have lower expectations and more playing time/opportunities for the two young forwards.
If the duo is able to get back to looking like their 2017-18 selves, when they were vital in getting a depleted Boston team to within a game of the 2018 Finals, then the Celtics can feel comfortable in shelling out the big bucks to build their future around them. And if not, and the duo continues to stagnate, then Boston can also feel comfortable that they didn’t already commit a major contract to Brown.
For what it’s worth, Brown doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to get an extension done…
…so Boston, apparently, won’t have to worry about ill-will on the player’s behalf if he does hit restricted free agency in 2020 as a hot commodity after a strong 2019-20 season.
At that point, though, they’d be left with no choice but to open up the checkbook.
HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy contributed to this report.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.