With a few months left in the season, some players still have something to gain or prove. I asked our staff to weigh in on their thoughts:
I’m between Grant and Brown for this question, and it comes down to cash money. Brown can earn the possibility of a 5 year $290M contract extension with an All-NBA nod this year. Grant is obviously approaching restricted free agency this summer. I’ll say Grant has more to gain/lose. Brown is going to make absurd money on his next contract regardless. The lasting impression Grant leaves teams with in the playoffs could be the difference between him earning $12M per year on his next contract versus $20M per year. That is a fairly significant earning range that will be decided in the next few months.
I’m going to zag here and say Robert Williams. Somehow, despite playing only 23 games on basically 20 minutes per game, he’s 3rd on the DPOY ladder on NBA.com. We’ve hit the point where the perception of Timelord is far different from the reality of Timelord. The injuries, the weird minutes, the missed games, it’s time for it to stop and for him to be unleashed, for his own good. I’m happy to wait for the playoffs for this to happen...but it actually has to HAPPEN. It can’t just be this consistent rollercoaster for a guy who, for at least the past few games, has looked a bit out of rhythm. I think he needs to prove this team can rely on him to be on the floor and handle big minutes during their championship window. No better time like the present, unleash the Timelord.
Grant Williams has placed a bet on himself, and there’s a lot of money on the line. The failure of Williams and the Celtics’ front office to come to an agreement on a contract extension last summer has been a lingering storyline all season long, and it’s going to have significant implications for both player and team this offseason. Williams is reportedly seeking up to $20 million annually in restricted free agency, but it’s fair to question whether his play on the court has earned such a deal. He’s improved offensively, but not to a particularly dramatic extent, and his defensive impact has been less consistent than it was last season. It’s shaping up to be a very important postseason for Williams if he wants to convince the Celtics — or someone else — to put the big bucks on the table.
I’d say Jaylen Brown has the most to prove. I’m not entirely sure why, but it still feels as though way too many people out there don’t realize just how dynamic he is. A strong finish to the season (mask or no mask) would go a long way for both him personally and the Celtics. He was terrific the bulk of the playoffs, and he’s fully capable of taking it to he next level while limiting his turnovers in key moments.
Brown needs to improve his ability to carry non Tatum lineups. I think a huge part of that needs to be letting White or Brogdon handle the majority of the playmaking, while Brown looks for more off-ball opportunities, even if that’s just using his gravity to open up scoring opportunities for others.
I think it’s Tatum. There’s not been a Celtic since Bird that’s been in the convo as the best player in the league (except maybe KG in his first season). If he gets a title and an all-nba first team nod, he will very firmly establish himself in that conversation. Tatum’s early years have put him in a spot where he can build an incredibly compelling career, potentially all-time great level. This would be a massive step in that direction, and to me, that’s a more significant development than just about anything.
I think it has to be Grant Williams. If he has another playoffs like he did last season (locking up opposing wings and hitting threes), he is in for a BIG pay raise. Guys like him are only rising in value, and I don’t think the Celtics will be too content letting him go in free agency this summer — he fits pretty perfectly into what they’ve built and where they’re going as a team. Against Giannis, specifically, I think he’ll be a pretty pivotal defensive stopper and will play a lot of minutes.
On an individual level, the answer is Grant Williams. On a team-level, it’s Sam Hauser. For Williams, this season is all about the summer. If he can finish the year with strong defensive performances, an improved sense of shot awareness (not passing up open threes), and a great playoff run, he should secure the bag, and the Celtics should feel great giving it to him. If not, it could cause some problems. As for Hauser, he’s really the only true wing on the roster behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If he can continue shooting at a high level on a consistent basis and avoid another slump, it would strengthen the Celtics’ rotation and avoid the notion that whatever wing they add using the 15th roster spot should get minutes over him. Plus, when he’s at his best shooting-wise, he could actually earn playoff minutes in the right situations. But if he struggles, the Celtics will be left with one less shooter, one less wing, and one less reliable playoff piece.
There are numerous Celtics with much to gain or lose depending on the outcome of this season. For instance, will Grant Williams’ play earn him a big payday in restricted free agency? Will Jaylen Brown make All-NBA and thus become eligible for tens of millions of dollars in extra compensation through a supermax contract extension? Will Jayson Tatum win MVP or, even more important, lead the Celtics back to the Finals and this time bring home the trophy?
But the biggest question is probably this: Can the chronically injured Robert Williams remain healthy for an entire postseason? He could not last season, which deeply damaged the Celtics’ prospects. And so far this season Rob has appeared in just 23 of Boston’s 59 games. He’s being rested on back-to-backs to limit his wear-and-tear. Will that make a difference? Because although Luke Kornet has filled in well during the regular season, the Celtics absolutely need Rob’s defense, shot-blocking and lob-finishing in order to win it all. It’s that simple.
I think Grant Williams needs to show some more consistency to earn his big payday of the offseason, Robert Williams needs to prove he can get back to 100% before the playoffs, and Jayson Tatum has a chance to close out the season really strong and earn his MVP nod. Outside of that, I think Jaylen Brown really needs to close out strong with the hope that he gets All-NBA. If that doesn’t happen, the supermax isn’t possible for him, and that will be sure to fuel any noise of him leaving when his contract is up.
I don’t have a ton to add regarding Grant or Jaylen so I’ll move a little further down the list and mention Payton Pritchard. He’s made his case that he deserves more minutes and he’s made it known that he would welcome a change of scenery sooner or later (to get that opportunity). That’s all well and good and probably a good thing for maintaining his confidence while not getting the kinds of minutes a player of his talent level deserves. With that said, the trade deadline is behind us and there’s nothing that can be done about that till the offseason. Now he needs to focus on being ready and being the best teammate he can be. The rest can work itself out later.