Last week, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said that the Boston Celtics will “most likely” offer forward Jayson Tatum a maximum contract extension this offseason. Shortly after, several NBA players (such as CJ McCollum and Trae Young) poked fun at the news, pointing out that a max extension for Tatum is a no-brainer and all but certain.
After all, the 22-year-old emerged as an All-Star this season, averaging 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.8 threes, 1.4 steals on 44.8/39.8/80.6 shooting splits. Also, the Celtics are currently 43-21, which is the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
A max rookie-scale extension would pay Tatum anywhere from $181.25 million to $217.5 million over five years thanks to “The Rose Rule,” although these numbers are subject to change since they are based on pre-pandemic projections.
HoopsHype asked some experts to weigh in on Tatum’s future and the likelihood of him getting the max.
“I think he is getting a max extension,” an Eastern Conference general manager told HoopsHype. “That may be one where you have some incentives in the deal; I mean, it’s not like he’s LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo. But he’s pretty close to being a Top 20 player, if he isn’t already, and he’s still so young. Usually, you’re trying to keep goodwill with a player like that.
“Maybe it’ll be a max deal with certain likely bonuses – some fairly attainable incentives in there – but I think it’ll be a max deal. If that ends up being below the max, I’d be very, very surprised.”
ESPN analyst Bobby Marks, who worked in NBA front offices for 20 years, agreed with the general manager.
“I think they’ll give him a blank check,” Marks said with a laugh. “He’s one of those guys where you go with the blank-check approach. I think Tatum and Donovan Mitchell can basically dictate what salary they want. I think we saw with the extension that Boston gave Jaylen Brown, which wasn’t the full max, they gave themselves a little bit of cap flexibility because they knew that Jayson’s was coming up next. But, yeah, I think it’s a no-brainer. I doubt we’re going to see Boston come in with a low-ball number. (laughs)”
While Marks believes the two sides will agree to a max extension, it’s possible that Tatum’s camp is concerned about how the pandemic will impact the NBA’s salary cap going forward.
“The only reason that Tatum wouldn’t sign an extension is because there’s uncertainty as far as what that 2021 salary cap is going to be at, and his salary would be based on a percentage of the cap (if he signs the extension),” Marks explained. “That’d be the only reason why you’d want to play it out. You’d do a one-year deal in 2021 and then, hopefully, the cap goes back up in 2022. That would really be the only reason why [Tatum turns it down].”
It remains to be seen how the NBA losing a significant portion of Basketball Related Income (BRI) will impact the salary cap for the 2020-21 season and beyond.
Typically, the NBA’s deadline for teams to sign fourth-year players to a rookie-scale extension is in October, but that date will likely be moved due to the NBA’s altered schedule.
After a somewhat mediocre sophomore campaign, Tatum spent the offseason working on shooting threes, driving to the basket and drawing fouls (as his trainer, Drew Hanlen, outlined on The HoopsHype Podcast). He also recognized that he needed to play within the flow of the offense and take what the defense gives him rather than hunt for shots. Tatum has gotten better at creating for others too, as evidenced by his career-highs in assists per game (2.9), assist percentage (14 percent) and points created per game (7.7).
And Tatum only continued to make strides as the season progressed. In February, he averaged 30.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 4.3 threes and 1.2 steals while shooting 49.4 percent from the field and a ridiculous 48.1 percent from three-point range.
“Tatum leads the league in adjusted field goal percentage, at 61.2 percent, which accounts for the extra points earned by converting from deep. It’s the fifth-highest figure ever recorded,” Jared Weiss of The Athletic wrote in a great piece on Tatum’s breakout season. “His 1.6 percentage point lead over [Damian] Lillard in adjusted field goal percentage is the biggest gap among anyone in the Top 50 rankings.”
If Tatum and the Celtics can’t reach an agreement on a rookie-scale extension, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft will become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021.