Jaylen Brown expressed discontent across a wide range of areas in recent interviews with the New York Times and The Ringer. Discussing everything from the ground covered by protests against police violence and his education initiatives, roadblocks in Boston against his business ventures, his relationship with Jayson Tatum, Ime Udoka’s suspension and ousting, along with the fallout of reports that the Celtics offered him for Kevin Durant last summer, little from his commentary pointed toward a likely return to Boston in two years.
“I don’t know. As long as I’m needed. It’s not up to me,” he told The Ringer. “We’ll see how they feel about me over time and I feel about them over time. Hopefully, whatever it is, it makes sense. But I will stay where I’m wanted. I will stay where I’m needed and treated correct.”
Brown balled again in a role he emphasized involved sacrifice both in those sit-downs and at the all-star game, scoring 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting in a 132-109 rout of the Kings, who were winners of 11-of-13 before their last two losses. He continued his run of 27.7 points per game since the all-star break, then spoke again about leadership. Brown addressed the discussion that followed his interviews, alluding to quotes taken out of context and the possibility he could clarify things. For now, one point remains — he isn’t sure what he’ll do in the future.
That’s, in part, because of the looming All-NBA vote that determines what the Celtics can offer Brown in a contract extension. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, Boston can offer Brown a 20% raise on his final year’s salary to begin his next contract in 2024-25, amounting to a four-year, $165.2-million deal.
That’s less than the four-years, $184.5 million a rival team could offer in free agency, and the five-years, $248.8-million Boston can offer then. A super max contract — only available if Brown makes All-NBA this year or next — blows the others away at five-years, $290.3-million. Brown’s status, stuck between a guard and forward, makes his eligibility for All-NBA unclear.
Seismic seasons from Luka Dončić, Donovan Mitchell, Steph Curry, De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, Jalen Brunson, James Harden, Darius Garland and Jrue Holiday create a massively competitive guard field. One where Brown may fall just short.
At forward, assuming Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo are locks, leaving LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both largely injured this year, along with Julius Randle, Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam and Lauri Markkanen as competition in an open forward field. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Zion Williamson may not qualify given their games missed. Anthony Davis might sneak in as a forward given how injuries and inconsistency thinned that position this year, though he’s played 100% of his minutes at center.
The choice between choosing Brown as a guard or forward is one between shoo-in or snub. That could explain Brown’s discontent with his position. On the court, he’ll never be the Celtics player who receives national focus and stature. Off the court, Logan Murdock explained he always felt conflicted about landing in Boston.
“I told Jaylen Brown this,” Isiah Thomas told Cedric Maxwell on his CLNS Media podcast recently. “You ain’t gonna wanna hear this, but you belong in Boston, you’re a Celtics. He said, ‘I can’t see myself that way,’ but once he understood the history of the Celtics, the real history of the Celtics, he fist hand-in-glove as a Celtic.”
Many players listed above receive the benefit of the doubt because of their standing in the league, even their determination as forwards. A 6-6 player of Brown’s caliber on a top-three team, averaging 26.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.4 APG and 1.2 SPG on 49.2% shooting should be a relative lock. That would make the Celtics’ decision on addressing his future easiest, offering the super max and turning toward a trade if he declined. Given the aforementioned contract limitations if he doesn’t make All-NBA, it becomes a harder call.
Fortunately, the NBA and NBPA reportedly discussed increasing raises affecting contract extensions like Brown’s to 40-50%, which could increase the Celtics’ ability to offer him a four-year, $207.7-million contract this summer if he isn’t eligible for the super max in the 50% scenario, compared to $165.2-million with the 20% raise.
That’s a difference between $51.9-million average annual value and $58.1-million in the super max. The league and NBPA, which Brown is a vice president with, set a Mar. 31 deadline to agree to a new CBA, which they consider likely.
“I just enjoy the time that you have now,” Brown said. “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. Especially right now, I’ll just say we’ll get there when we get there.”
There doesn’t make it sound like more clarity exists internally, especially given Brown’s comments about how he interacts with the organization without a level of warmness given their business approach. Brown joined Brad Stevens and Tatum on a call after the trade rumors and an infamous workout photo of Tatum and Durant emerged, which led Brown toward uncertainty regarding the franchise’s energy.
It recalls the question of whether or not the front office should’ve denounced whatever false reports floated at the time publicly, even considering precedent that would set. Celtics ownership also received a glancing mention as Brown addressed his relationship with Ye with the NYT.
“I don’t think the same as [the Celtics owners] Steve Pagliuca or Wyc Grousbeck on a lot of different issues,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t come together and win a championship.”
Trading Brown for a MVP candidate in Durant provided a possible solution to the uncertainty now unavailable to Boston. It’s unclear if they can alleviate on-court concerns drastically either, with Tatum’s role as an on-ball creator and Brown’s off-ball established long ago. Brown’s challenges in Boston, including business and housing opportunities he deemed appropriate relative to his status, could be even less likely to change in the near future.
The Celtics need to have these conversations, and if they can’t, trust might’ve eroded beyond repair and lead the team to inevitably explore trades this summer. Could winning cure all? Could $300-million?
Remember Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal raved about their questionable situations in Portland and Washington before signing super max extensions. The line of thinking was players and agents could get the money and figure out the rest later. If Brown gets traded, he loses the ability to receive the super max and faces the same extension limitations, which he seemed to increase the likelihood of with his recent comments. A CBA adjustment, however, would offer him the same potential 40-50% bump elsewhere if it’s accepted by the league.
We’ll fully learn Brown’s priorities in time, but it’s no longer on Boston’s side. Brown becomes an unrestricted free agent in just over 15 months.
“The only thing I want to clarify is that the Celtics need to play better and win games,” he told reporters in Sacramento. “I like when people hear things from the horse’s mouth, and you can see my reaction, my face and everything how I feel about what I’m saying … I keep in constant communication with my teammates and my organization and we’ve gotta have everybody on board if we want to do what we want to do.”