Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown signed the biggest contract in NBA history this week, a five-year supermax extension worth a whopping $450m ($US 303.7m), catapulting him above the likes of Steph Curry, LeBron James, and his own teammate, Jason Tatum. Notice I said star, not superstar.
Brown’s deal exceeds two-time MVP Nikola Jokic’s $408m (US$276 million) extension with the Denver Nuggets, an increase attributable to the rise in the salary cap and league revenue.
Brown’s deal has been mooted for some time after his stellar season, in which he averaged 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, earned him second-team All-NBA honours, a prerequisite for securing the five-year supermax extension. The question was, were the Celtics ready to cough up on a player who is not even the best on his team – that would be Tatum – has a shaky handle, and basically flamed out in the play-offs. It turns out they are.
Aside from its sheer scale, the contract will be a relief for Brown, 26, who has regularly been shopped in trade rumours for the likes of Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. It’s not surprising – Brown is a big wing with a solid jump shot and the capacity to play lockdown defence, a prized commodity in today’s NBA. But his weaknesses are manifold. He can’t dribble, is a turn-over machine and has limited capacity as a playmaker. Those are the kind of liabilities that can be exposed in the play-offs, as they have been the last two years, first against the Golden State Warriors and then again, this year against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. There he averaged 19 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 41 per cent shooting. Not a total disgrace by any means, but hardly the numbers you’d expect from the league’s highest paid player.
Of course, you can’t talk about Brown without mentioning Tatum. The duo has been one of the most productive in the NBA the last few years, combining for 56.7 points per game last season, the fourth-most since 1976. In addition, they both scored 30 points in 10 games, a feat only the original Batman & Robin duo, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, have accomplished in the past 30 years.
Tatum and Brown are the league’s new caped killers and until last season it wasn’t altogether clear who was the emo loner and who was the sunny Boy Wonder. But it was Tatum, who is a year younger than his teammate, who clearly emerged as the Celtics’ best player during this year’s play-offs and boasts a far more complete all-round game, though, like Brown, he’s not a natural playmaker.
That’s been the issue for the Celtics. Do this dynamic duo actually fit together or would the team be better served by putting a pure point guard, say a Tyrese Haliburton, next to Tatum, who they will have to fork out for next summer when he becomes eligible for his own supermax. Can the Celtics really afford to have two guys getting the full bag on the same team, particularly when one has proved his ceiling is a Robin? Will that hamper the team’s roster construction going forward? Or will the money flooding into the league from the next TV rights agreement make Brown’s deal look like, if not a bargain, money well spent?
The Celtics have made their choice, now they have to hope they don’t live to regret it.
Who is Jaylen Brown?
Brown, a 6’ 7” power forward, was drafted third out of the University of California in the 2016 draft, yep behind Ben Simmons. A two-time All-star, Brown made the All-NBA second team last year and boasts career averages of 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists on 47 per cent field goal percentage. Off the court, the Atlanta native is a businessman, fashionista (most NBA players are to some degree) and mentor for underprivileged kids. He’s also vice president of the National Basketball Players Association.
Why is Jaylen Brown getting paid more than stars like LeBron James and Steph Curry?
Right man, right place, decent game. Brown is eligible for the supermax extension just as the league’s salary cap is ballooning. It is unusual for a second-tier player to be the highest paid in the league – the most recent headline-grabbing contracts have gone to MVPs: Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook – but it isn’t without precedent. In 2016, the-then Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who’s never made an All Star team, was the beneficiary of a massive salary cap spike, allowing him to sign a five-year $153m deal.
How long will Jaylen Brown be the NBA’s highest paid player?
Brown should kick back and enjoy his time in the sun because basic economics says it won’t last long, just as Conley’s didn’t – he was surpassed by Steph Curry’s record 5-year $201 million contract in 2017. With a new collective bargaining agreement in place, and with the NBA set to negotiate its next TV deal, estimated by some to be in the order of US$70b, player contracts are set to explode. Brown will most likely be passed by teammate Jason Tatum when he negotiates his contract next summer.
Will the Celtics regret signing Jaylen Brown to such a massive contract?
Got a crystal ball? No didn’t think so. Honestly this could go either way. Brown’s contract looks like an overpay right now but in a few years, when guys who are less well regarded are making bank, it could look like a relative steal. A lot depends on Brown’s development. He has improved in most areas of his game – bar ballhandling – every season. To think that Ben Simmons was once regarded as a superior player to Brown is laughable now. Brown and Tatum have been knocked for failing to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy while still only in their mid-twenties. History tells us most players don’t win a title until their late 20s – Jordan was 28, LeBron 27, Curry 27, and the most recent superstar to claim the trophy, Jokic, 28. The duo has time on their side. Having gone all in on Tatum and Brown the onus is now on the Celtics to build a roster around them that can take them over the hump. It’s also up to Brown to reward the Celtics’ faith in him. Becoming a ‘superstar’ (or Batman), would certainly help.