As we continue to have our fingers on the pause button for the 2019-20 NBA season, now is a good time to check back in on one of the biggest Boston Celtics transactions from this past off-season.
Danny Ainge made several major decisions for the Boston Celtics in the 2019 calendar year. Among the biggest were the decisions to let Kyrie Irving walk–though in reality he was out the door mid-way through the 2018-19 season anyway–and replacing him with the next best available free agent point guard in Kemba Walker.
The 2019 NBA free agency period was very much marked by rapid player movement in and out of Boston, with Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Marcus Morris all signing lucrative offers elsewhere. Besides Walker’ max-pact, Ainge pinched pennies on the remainder of his roster by inking Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Vincent Poirier and Brad Wanamaker to deals of $5 million or less.
Besides them, the 2019 draft class all signed their first NBA contracts, with Tacko Fall becoming too much of a sensation not to sign himself. All in all, most of the free agent money went to bringing Walker into the fold.
It wasn’t until October that Ainge ponied up the cash once more. This time, it was in the form of a four-year, $115 million contract extension for the #3 pick from the 2016 draft, Jaylen Brown. Brown’s monster contract offer was somewhat of a surprise at the time, being that he was coming off of a season in which he was demoted to the bench after showing flashes of stardom in the 2018 playoffs.
I had some harsh words back in October when news broke that Brown turned down a four-year deal worth $35 million less than the one that he ended up signing. At the time, I opined:
It really doesn’t take much beyond the eye-test to realize Brown isn’t a worth that sort of investment quite yet, but even a skin-deep look into the stats confirm that belief. In his best season, Brown was a 14.5 point-per-game scorer who grabbed five rebounds per game. Those numbers simply do not scream max contract guy.
To say I was taken aback when the ink dried on his extension was an understatement. Regardless, he was locked in as the Celtic with the longest running contract after pen was put to paper, with his deal expiring in 2024.
Signing such a noteworthy contract could have brought eyeballs to the team for all the wrong reasons. After Ainge repeatedly held Brown and Jayson Tatum out of trade talks for stars like Anthony Davis, he could have looked foolish for giving Brown a contract he didn’t deserve.
After 64 games this year, it is obvious that the opposite is true. Brown has been worth every penny of his deal.
Switching up his game has been a driver for his success. As our own Andrew Dilorio explained, Brown has become a more efficient scorer in his fourth-year leap:
In previous years, Brown has shown both a reluctance to drive to the rim and a tendency to get a bit out of control due to his amazing athleticism. Now, he has learned to be in control his body, while improving both his vision and patience to improve his offensive game. He still drives to the hoop with ease, but now he’s an efficient driver; something that’s propelled the offense all year.
Another promising area for Brown is his shot chart. 84 percent of his shots this season have been either within 10 feet of the basket, or beyond the arc. This is what coaches look for in efficient scorers in today’s NBA.
Averaging over 20 points per game to go along with six rebounds, two assists and a steal, Brown is a borderline All-Star making borderline All-Star money. Ainge could not have expected anything more from a player who has undergone plenty of roster overhaul since signing with the team.
With no one stopping him from being his best self, Brown’s deal may actually become a bargain in the years to come if he can continue to develop alongside Tatum so well. For now, though, the Houdini is grading his deal far more favorably than we did when it was originally signed.