Will Jaylen Brown leave the Boston Celtics?
That’s the question that will be running through the minds of fans for the next two years. When Kevin Durant trade rumors dominated headlines, some fans were in favor of the deal because Brown could ditch the Celtics in the summer of 2024. Others preferred the idea of keeping Brown and convincing him to stay in the city that drafted him.
Brown has two years left on his current contract, and technically speaking, he could sign an extension right now. However, that’s not going to happen. Not because he doesn’t want to be in Boston, but because he would be giving up a ton of money if he did. CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith explains:
“It is not beneficial at all for Jaylen Brown to extend now. This is not anything to do with the Celtics. The Celtics would love to extend him today. Because he is not on one of the so-called designated player extensions, Brown is not in a position to extend for the max like what we generally see a lot of other guys do.
So in that spot, Brown is set to make $30.7 million in the final year, in the 2023-24 season. What he can do off of that number is he can extend for 120%, or a 20% raise off of that, for three years. Right now today, he could do that. That would make his number, let’s call it $36.9 million in 2024-25, $39.8 million in 2025-26, and then $42.7 million in 2026-27. Total, three-year extension, $119.5 million. If Brown waits to become a free agent, his first-year salary that he would be eligible for is $42.9 million. So, $42.9 million is, you know, that’s roughly $6 million above what he could make in an extension, then you add on the raises from there, and we go from there. So that’s why he’s not going to do the standard veteran extension this summer.”
The summer of 2024 will be the first time that Boston’s current core is put in danger, and for the most part, the Celtics don’t have any control over it. Brown will be an unrestricted free agent. The Celtics can offer him more money overall than anyone else, but if he wants to join a different team, he will have complete freedom to do so.
By the time 2024 free agency rolls around, Brown will be 27 years old, in the prime of his career, and one of the most intriguing players on the market. But he won’t be the only player available, though. Guys like Khris Middleton, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet will also be hitting unrestricted free agency. Brown, however, will be over two years younger than all of them.
But what would make Brown want to leave Boston? Well, there are a bunch of reasons.
First scoring option
As things stand, Brown will never be The Man in Boston. Barring an insane jump from him and lots of regression from Jayson Tatum, that just isn’t in the cards with the Celtics. Tatum is very clearly the team’s top scoring option, and while Brown isn’t far behind, there will always be that inner sense of being the Scottie Pippin to Tatum’s Michael Jordan.
Now, whenever one of the two talks about this, that’s never how it comes across. From everything we’ve seen from Tatum and Brown, they are committed to building something special in Boston together. But who knows what the future holds? By the time he hits free agency, maybe Brown is eager to lead his own team as the clear #1.
There will be teams in 2024 free agency that can offer him this. Squads like the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, and Charlotte Hornets will all have enough money to sign Brown and will presumably be able to offer him the opportunity to be the top dog. Obviously, Charlotte and Indiana have top-tier point guards in LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton, but it’s not hard to imagine those guys taking a backseat in the scoring column and instead, facilitating for Brown.
But while those three teams are great examples, the biggest threat to Boston could actually be a recent playoff opponent. The Raptors, Hornets, and Pacers can offer Brown the chance to be the first scoring option, but the Miami Heat can give him that title and a chance to win a championship. By the time Brown hits free agency, Kyle Lowry’s contract will be off the books, and if they clear a little bit more space by then by dumping Duncan Robinson, they could feasibly make room for Brown in South Beach.
Jimmy Butler has never wanted to be the number-one scoring option, and Bam Adebayo has proved that he’s not that type of player. Adding Brown into the mix could propel Miami even further into the title mix, and Brown would get to be the star of the show.
If Brown wants to go somewhere that he can be the first scoring option, there should be options for him in free agency.
Change of scenery
Maybe Brown doesn’t care about being the first option. If that’s the case, then he would likely struggle to find a better fit than the Celtics. They’ve built up a championship-caliber roster around him and Tatum, and they are set to compete for titles for the next decade. But what if he simply just wants a change of scenery? Well, there will be plenty of quality teams that should be willing to give him that, too.
The Dallas Mavericks should be in a constant search for a co-star to pair alongside Luka Doncic, and if they dump a contract or two by 2024, they could make space for Brown. Not only would Brown be able to take some of the scoring load off of Doncic, but he’d likely also slot in as the team’s best perimeter defender.
Similar statements can be made for teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, Detroit Pistons, and Philadelphia 76ers, who could all be looking for fresh faces to pair with their respective stars by 2024. Ja Morant, Cade Cunningham, and Joel Embiid would all assumedly jump at the chance to play with Brown.
Again, though, this reasoning would bank on the idea that Brown is sick of Boston, and from everything we’ve seen, that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.
Whenever reporters ask Tatum about a team he’d rather play for than Boston, he always notes that if St. Louis had a team, he would want to play there. Well, what if Brown feels the same way? Could he join the Atlanta Hawks?
The short answer? Absolutely.
Brown’s love for the city of Atlanta has been well documented. The most pertinent example came in 2020, when he drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest in his hometown city. His new Celtics teammate, Malcolm Brogdon, joined him at the protest, as he is also from the area.
Players choosing to sign with their hometown team isn’t a new concept. LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, and Kawhi Leonard chose to sign with the LA Clippers in 2019.
And in terms of the on-court product, the Hawks are doing a solid job of putting together a quality roster. Trae Young is an All-NBA level guard, they just traded for Dejounte Murray (who they would need to re-sign by then), and their supporting cast is still young, too. Plus, they will have the ability to open up cap space for Brown if they traded one of John Collins or Clint Capela.
Where would that leave the Celtics?
Let’s say Brown does decide to leave Boston. Where would that leave the Celtics?
Well, while nothing is guaranteed, the Celtics wouldn’t actually be in a terrible position. At that point, Tatum would still have two years left on his current deal (with the latter being a player option), Marcus Smart and Robert Williams would have two fully-guaranteed years left, and Brogdon and Derrick White would each have one year left. The rest of Boston’s core would still be in place.
Taking into account Grant Williams’ potential extension and Sam Hauser’s final contract year, it would leave the Celtics will seven players (if Al Horford retires by then). And, if no moves are made, Spotrac projects them to have just under $27 million in cap space. That’s not enough to sign a max player, but they would be one Brogdon or White trade away from entering that conversation. A sign-and-trade with Brown could also net them a marquee player in return.
It’s obviously looking way too far ahead, but that summer, guys like Siakam, VanVleet, Middleton, and Domantas Sabonis will all be hitting the open market. None of them are quite at Brown’s level, especially factoring in youth, but it’s not like the Celtics would be incapable of replacing his production.
Keeping Brown is, and should be, the top priority, but if all else fails, there will still be some decent options for Boston to consider in free agency that year.
Is Brown leaving?
It’s impossible to know whether or not Brown will leave in 2024. A lot can change in two years. If Boston wins a championship, how would that affect things? Would Brown want to keep things going and build not just a winner, but a dynasty with the Celtics? Or would he feel as though he’s accomplished everything he set out to in Boston?
What if they don’t win it all? Would he want to keep running it back with Tatum, trying to win a ring with the Celtics? Or would he rather test the waters with a new club? There are a ton of questions that no one knows the answer to except for Brown, and even he might now know them right now.
Everything he and Tatum have said indicates that they are committed to winning in Boston. They want to help the Celtics win Banner 18 together. Consider this quote from Tatum that surfaced in August.
“We just try to stay in the moment. It’s not necessarily about what our legacy would look like if we did this, that, and the third,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston. “Just trying to be the best versions of ourselves, the best players that we can be, and compete at the highest level. I think we really took those next steps last season. And we’ll be the first to tell you that we got more to do. More to accomplish. And we’re eager to do so… Despite all the people that said that we couldn’t play together, we always believed that we could.”
Two years is a long time, but right now, Brown seems to be all-in on Boston.