Jaylen Brown is a fine player. On paper, he qualifies as great. The Boston Celtics’ co-star is unequivocally one of the NBA’s best players at his position.
He made his second straight All-Star appearance this season, qualified for second-team All-NBA, has been a Top-17 scorer each of the past three seasons and averaged a career-best 26.6 points per game in the regular season for a Celtics team that finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference this year.
Brown has averaged at least one steal per game in five of his seven NBA seasons, shoots five percentage points better than the NBA’s average field goal percentage (42%), has proven mostly durable appearing in at least 57 games every season and has historically been a reliable three-point shooter.
A fine player indeed. On paper, a great.
There’s a gap, however, between fine, possibly great, superstar and a show-stopper, which Brown proved himself not to be in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics became just the fourth team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after trailing a playoff series 0-3, only for the Miami Heat to turn the TD Garden into a woodshed and hand the Celtics a 19-point lashing en route to an NBA Finals date with the Denver Nuggets.
When Boston’s superhero forward Jayson Tatum turned his ankle on Game 7′s opening possession, clearly limited and hobbled for the remainder of the game, the Celtics needed Brown to step up. They needed him to be at minimum the fine, great player he’d proven himself to be during the regular season.
That didn’t happen: Brown coughed up just as many turnovers (eight) as both made shots and missed three-point attempts. He failed to impact the game in other ways despite his broken jumper and took a back seat to Derrick White, a role player who the Celtics felt more comfortable running late-game offense through with Tatum serving mostly as a decoy.
Brown’s Game 7 stat line read 19 points on 8-of-23 shooting from the field and one-of-nine shooting from downtown. It marked his fourth game of the series logging less than 20 points, the fourth game of the series he shot worse than 44% from the field, the fourth game of the conference finals he turned the ball over at least three times and the sixth game of the series he shot poorly from downtown.
Brown shot 16% from downtown against the Heat in the series. If you remove his 3-of-5 shooting night in Game 5, the Celtics’ star shot 4-of-38 from behind the arc in the series.
And the Celtics’ star couldn’t deliver when his team needed him most. As some of the greats in Boston’s storied franchise history watched nearby, hoping the Celtics would make history and become the only team to ever come back from down 0-3 to win a playoff series, the moment proved too big.
And so could Brown’s next contract.
Brown qualifies as a great player on paper, and great players secure great bags. In Brown’s case, he is eligible to sign a five-year, $295 million supermax contract extension this summer. Tatum is eligible for a similar deal in excess of $300 million next summer. The Celtics have an opportunity to keep their duo of wings in Beantown for the next half-decade — and it could cost them over $610 million.
Championships, however, are the only things that matter in Boston — not fine, great players who can’t get the job done. There have been an array of views on Brown’s fit in Boston, ranging from ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins urging Celtics ownership to trade the star wing this summer to local Boston media pleading with management to pay him despite his struggles.
Brown deserves a payday. There is no debate about that. He has outperformed the four-year, $106 million deal he signed at age 24. In fact, max contracts are more about value to an individual team. If the Celtics chose not to max out Brown, for example, he could become an unrestricted free agent the following summer and leave for nothing — or use the threat of leaving for nothing to create an untenable environment.
Kyrie Irving did it in Brooklyn. So did James Harden.
On the other side of the same coin, Irving proved without a shadow of a doubt he is capable of delivering in high-pressure moments and Harden is an offensive talent so gifted, his abilities helped onset a basketball analytics movement.
Brown folded under pressure within arm’s reach of what could have been Boston’s second consecutive NBA Finals appearance. The Celtics allowed the Heat to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the Finals since the Knicks did it in 1999.
And while Brown isn’t solely responsible for Boston’s unraveling, his play only made matters worse. It was a difficult sight to stomach for an organization looking to hang its 19th NBA championship banner.
Another difficult sight to stomach? Two-hundred-ninety-five million dollars going to the player who couldn’t deliver when his team needed him most.
Unfortunately for Boston, the alternative would be worse. Losing a fine, great player for nothing in free agency is no better than the idea of overpaying him, and blowing up a core that came within striking distance of the elusive 19th title two seasons in a row might not make the most business sense.
Source: Berkshire mont