It was cringing to see Boston Celtics first ever rookie since Rajon Rondo in 2009 to sign a contract extension, score just eight points in a physical game against Philadelphia Sixers. Two days prior to the 93-107 loss, Brown and Boston agreed to a four year, $115 million contract extension that sent shock waves through the league.
Signing a fourth year Small Forward/Shooting Guard who has had an up and down career in the NBA to such a contract-set to make $28 million annually in salary beyond this season- was met with skepticism and rightly so. This is because on one hand, Brown hasn’t showed a lot to deserve such a contract unlike his fellow draft mates Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray and Pascal Siakam.
Another reason for the negative reaction to the contract was Brown’s level of play last season when the level of expectation was high considering the return of Gordon Hayward from a lengthy injury and Boston’s improbable run to the 2017-2018 Eastern Conference Finals.
After producing 14.5 points in the Regular season and adding 18 points in the post season, Brown averaged 13 points and 13.9 points respectively last season when Boston was expected to at least make it to the Conference Finals. On the other hand, there are reasons to see positives behind this rare move by Boston.
Financial reason is the biggest factor for Brown’s extension since Celtics roster is pricey now but has a lot of room to fall close to the median in the near future. Hayward has largely underperformed since signing a four year, $128 million two seasons ago.
A horrific leg and ankle injury five minutes into his debut is the main reason behind his drop off in production.
However, should the former Utah Jazz Forward regain his All Star form this season, Boston could flip him next season for draft picks or low cost impact players to create room on the cap space as the first year of Brown’s contract kicks in.
Once this season concludes, Jayson Tatum is next for a massive contract extension and locking up Tatum on top of expensive contracts to Kemba Walker, Hayward and Brown plus Marcus Smart’s $13 million per season average pushes Boston into taxpaying territory. Paying taxes as punishment for going over the cap for a team that is a dark horse Conference final contender is a non starter. Milwaukee Bucks and Sixers are the contenders this season and moving forward, Brooklyn Nets will join the list taking Kevin Durant’s recovery from an Achilles injury into consideration.
Another reason is the lesson Boston learnt from pursuing big names on the market-free agency or trade- and its belief in developing young and fringe players. Unlike the surreal 2008 title winning team that was led by acquisitions Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston’s latest splurge on Kyrie and Hayward backfired with Kyrie signing for Brooklyn Nets this offseason and Hayward underperforming.
Conversely, Boston’s best run since 2008 was done with low pickups like Isaiah Thomas leading the charge and youngsters in Brown and Tatum playing complementary roles. By signing Brown to this long term deal is a sign of Boston banking on its ability to develop young players into All Stars rather than chasing title ambitions with players traded for or signed in free agency. Signing Tatum to a similar deal doubles down on this stance and where Boston believes its 18th title will come from.
Should Hayward get shipped out of Boston before his contract runs out and Walker play like most undersized Guards over 30 years normally do, the role of Brown and Tatum becomes clearer with Jaylen firmly entrenched at Shooting Guard and Tatum at Small Forward. That means Brown and Tatum wind up in a similar situation both were in 2017 where they were trusted with a lot of responsibility and rose up to the occasion albeit with clearly defined roles.
With Coach Brad Stevens forcing Hayward into the starting lineup and withdrawing Brown to the bench in a Sixth Man role, Brown’s production and demeanor suffered. Boston showed its level of confidence in Brown through the contract and forcing Hayward to play Power Forward against the Sixers and these are the conditions Brown thrived in two seasons ago.
Boston Celtics aren’t expected to feature in the Eastern Conference Finals or stand just a game away from playing in the NBA Finals in the foreseeable future but handing Brown a very rich contract could be the beginning of another shock run.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter