The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach reported that Jaylen Brown told Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge he intends to play with the team’s Summer League unit during the upcoming offseason.
It’s not uncommon for a second-year player to participate in Summer League play, though top picks are sometimes given a pass. Oftentimes high lottery selections join bad teams, and frequently even become the best (or at least close to the best) player on their rosters. Subjecting them to Summer League can be viewed as something of an insult.
Brown found himself in much different situation than most, however. He was selected third overall by a playoff team that managed to land a major free-agent in the same summer. It was the first time that an organization followed up an appearance in the postseason with top-three pick in the draft since 2003, when the Detroit Pistons took Darko Milicic second overall, after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Brown’s experience as a top prospect and subsequent entrance into a competent franchise is not one for which there is a clear mold, simply because it happens so rarely. It forced him to fight for minutes, pay close attention to detail on the defensive end, and apparently stay hungry.
“I had to fight for everything I got,” Brown said. “I had to earn every minute, earn every possession, and I liked it like that.”
That’s precisely the type of mentality that teams strive to instill in their players, particularly in a league as psychotically competitive and hardworking as the NBA. Boston’s surplus of talent could have irked Brown. It could have bothered him to spend so much time on the bench, or to be pulled from games quickly after little mistakes (and big ones too).
Players have a much shorter leash to learn and grow when their teams are gunning for playoff spots, and Brown had to learn to accept that. Playing meant learning discipline and mental focus. It meant accepting a lesser role for the betterment of the team.
To his credit, Brown seems grateful for the lesson. “A lot of good players, they don’t learn it that early,” he said. “They figure it out three, four, five years in. So I’m happy I learned it now and I’m continuing to learn it now.”
That’s equal parts a mature perspective on Brown’s behalf and a credit to the culture into which he’s been indoctrinated. The Celtics have made winning a priority, while finding space to foster individual development. It’s not quite “Spursian,” but it’s not all that far off, and Brown’s desire to play in Summer League is a reflection of the type of attitude Boston looks for in its players.
Constructing a roster that fits the team’s culture is a balance of finding personalities that already fit it, and convincing those that don’t to buy in. The Celtics’ front office and coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for doing both so effectively. Time will tell what it yields, and whether or not every young player reacts to their experience in Boston as positively as Brown, but things certainly seem to be working out at the moment.
Top prospect Markelle Fultz has already indicated an interest in wearing green next year. There is certainly no guarantee that the Celtics would draft him, but a positive perspective on the franchise from a potential incoming star would definitely serve as a productive step in the process of continuing to develop a cohesive mindset across the roster.
Team building is a delicate process, and it involves more than the simple compilation of talent. It includes supporting players in being self-motivated. The Celtics have clearly done that with Brown, and they stand positioned to reap the benefits.