Are the Celtics willing to pay over $100 million per season to just two players? And if so, for how long? Their next several seasons simply come down to this.
To come back from down 0-3 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals to force a Game 7 and then put up a stinker puts the Boston Celtics in a weird place after a 103-84 loss Monday night.
In Jaylen Brown‘s seven NBA seasons, Boston reached at least the conference finals five times — but the Celtics lost four of those series, winning only last year against Miami before falling just short against the Golden State Warriors in the Finals. Brown made Second Team All-NBA this season, putting up 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game during the regular season. Against Miami, that cratered to 19 points per game on 41.8% shooting, 16.3% from three (7-43!), and 25 turnovers, including eight in Game 7.
Combined with a First Team All-NBA honor for teammate Jayson Tatum, it all means, as our Sam Dunn pointed out earlier this month, that both players are eligible for supermax contracts. That would tally up to five years and $295 million for Brown starting in 2024 and $316 million over five years for Tatum starting in 2025, both of which are larger by total value than any contract in NBA history as of this writing.
So, the most important Celtics offseason question for this summer and the next few still to come is this: Is Boston willing to pay each of its stars at 35% of the salary cap, owing them more than $100 million combined for several seasons?
Let’s state it clearly: This is the issue that will determine the Celtics’ fortunes moving forward. Do they run it back with this core duo knowing that it can contend for a title but has a history of falling tantalizingly short? Will front office boss Brad Stevens move in a new direction and try to find a different No. 2 star to pair with Tatum? There would be no shortage of teams either willing to pay Brown handsomely, though league rules state that only the Celtics can offer him the true supermax. And of course, the team would still reserve the right to trade him even after inking him to that $295 million extension, as we’ve seen past supermax players like Russell Westbrook and James Harden change teams while still under contract.
Perhaps breaking up this superstar duo at some point is the only way for Boston to reshape its roster in a meaningful way, however. If Brown re-signs, it would likely put the Celtics above that second luxury tax apron included within the league’s new collective bargaining agreement that comes with additional restrictions on spending and signings. That’s not even to mention what they’ll do with restricted free agent Grant Williams, too, who could earn anywhere between $12 and $20 million per season on his next deal.
The rest of Boston’s core of Tatum, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, and Robert Williams are all under contract for at least two more guaranteed seasons, but keeping the full group together without a trade would come with a serious luxury tax bill. Prioritizing continuity in the rotation isn’t a given considering that the team just went below .500 at home during the playoffs (and has dealt with rumors regarding discord in the locker room).
One interesting name to watch is Danilo Gallinari, who missed the season with a torn ACL and has a $6.8 million player option for next season. He’d add some size and shooting Boston could have really used in the playoffs.
Finally, it’s worth asking whether Boston is truly 100% committed to head coach Joe Mazzulla. He replaced the scandalized Ime Udoka before the season and later had his interim tag removed, but the organization has surely noticed the uncommon level of talent still out there on the open market this summer. All told, we’re entering a Celtics offseason of impactful, reverberating decisions for one of the league’s premier franchises, and while there’s no single route that guarantees success, pundits and fans will look back on the summer of 2023 as a bellwether for Boston basketball.
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