Jaylen Brown inked the largest deal in NBA history last week. He will collect an estimated $304 million over five years once it kicks in after next season.
Interestingly, though, Brown and the Celtics didn’t opt for a player option in the last year –which would have allowed Brown to look for a bigger deal one year earlier. Instead, they settled on a trade kicker.
A trade kicker (officially called a trade bonus) is a stipulation in a contract that increases a player’s salary if he is traded. High-caliber players like to have them because it makes them harder to move, and compensates them more if they are.
Another recent Celtic, Blake Griffin, knows all about trade bonuses. When he signed an extension with the Clippers in July 2017, he had one in his contract. It was worth 15% of his deal, the maximum allowed for a bonus, exemplifying a long-term commitment between the franchise and the player.
He was traded to the Pistons six months later.
In Griffin’s case, the trade bonus might not have decreased the likelihood of a trade, as the clause is often intended. The Clippers still got pretty good value in that deal for an often injured player, netting Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, and two picks (a first rounder and a second rounder).
So, why didn’t the trade bonus discourage moving Griffin? Because it only increased Griffin’s salary by $215,000 in each year of his deal – less than 1% of Griffin’s yearly salary.
Griffin’s deal was worth just $215,000 shy of the maximum he could be paid in a season, which was 30% of the salary cap. Regardless of the trade kicker’s percentage value in the agreement, the stipulation cannot push the salary over that maximum percentage of the salary cap.
Brown’s deal falls under the same category. He is making the maximum he is eligible for, regardless of bonuses. The trade kicker can take effect only if his salary falls below 35% of the salary cap.
That can happen if the cap expands by more than 8% annually (remember, these extensions increase by 8% each year; the salary cap usually increases by between 3% and 10%). If the cap increase is less than that, his salary can’t increase with a trade. If he is traded in a year with a big cap increase, though, then he could see a pay increase of a million or so each year post-trade. That boost would be sustained throughout the life of the contract.
And just that kind of year could be looming. A new TV deal expected in the next few years is expected to lead to a major salary cap boost in the 2025-26 offseason. That happens to be the season that Jayson Tatum’s extension likely will kick in and cause serious salary complications for Boston. If Brad Stevens elects to move Brown, it could very well happen during that offseason.
That offseason will be a dramatic one. Boston will have to decide whether to extend key players like Malcom Brogdon (if he’s still around) and Derrick White while navigating a massive Tatum extension. Brown will be locked up for a few more years, but will be able to make a little bit more money if he is moved.
With that said, Jaylen Brown is a franchise cornerstone. He is – at times – overshadowed by Tatum, but the Celtics’ front office likely will do everything it can to hold on to Brown as long as he wants to be in Boston.
It’s also worth noting that Brown can’t be traded for one year after signing, so Boston will have to wait until late next offseason — in the unlikely scenario that they want to trade him before that.