Jaylen Brown was arguably one of the most improved players in the league this past season at age 21, yet his name has continually been thrown around casually in trade rumors over the last week.
Sean Deveney of the Sporting News floated his name as a potential trade piece in a hypothetical deal for the No. 4 or No. 5 pick last week. Tim Cato followed up that report yesterday with a Mavericks source indicating to him that the Mavericks were “unlikely to do the deal in any scenario” if the Celtics offered Brown for the No. 5 pick.
While the depth of the 2018 NBA Draft is quite strong in the top half of the lottery, it’s a baffling stance by Cato’s Mavericks source to declare a Brown trade for the No. 5 pick would not be enough for them to deal the pick.
Brown averaged 14.5 ppg on a 50-plus win team last year and those averages soared during the postseason in an enhanced role while Kyrie Irving was sidelined. In a lot of drafts, what Brown is doing during year two of his career is a best-case scenario for a player taken at No. 5 overall.
However, all of this discussion is a bit foolish when you simply look at it from a Celtics’ perspective. Brown is far from untouchable, but he’s not going anywhere this offseason unless it’s for a trade return that features an All-Star level player. A look at a few reasons why:
1. The Championship window starts now: Al Horford will turn 32 this offseason. Kyrie Irving will be one of several players needing significant raises in their next contracts in the summer of 2019. These varying issues will make it a balancing act for the front office over the next couple of seasons to balance the payroll and maintain championship depth with talent that remains in its prime.
Next season is the only year where the Celtics are sure to have their entire core from last season in place. Marcus Smart can be brought back in restricted free agency. Aron Baynes should be affordable as well. So why exactly would the Celtics want to remove Brown from that equation for a rookie that likely won’t be a reliable contributor just yet?
There are certainly young prospects that are capable of making an impact right away (Jayson Tatum says hello) but that’s generally the exception rather than the rule for rookies. Trading Brown for a draft pick will be a step back for 2018-19 and it’s hard to envision the Celtics being willing to make that sacrifice with the championship aspirations they have.
2. Brown’s cheap contract is an asset to the Celtics payroll, not an issue: The Celtics are not going to be able to afford everyone on this roster beyond 2019. Smart, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris are all hitting free agency in the next couple years and only one or two of those guys will be brought back in all likelihood. With Irving set for a max deal starting around $35 million annually in 2019 as well, players making below market value are going to be a critical part of balancing the C’s payroll for 2019 and beyond.
Brown will remain helpful on that front for at least the next couple seasons. The Celtics have team control over him through 2020 (he'll be a restricted free agent after that) but he’s only scheduled to make a combined $11.7 million over the final two years of his rookie deal. Affording him after that could be an issue (depending on his market), but the Celtics aren’t going to move him prematurely now for that reason. Things will get more interesting next summer (when he’s eligible for an extension). For now, he’s one of the best values in the league at his position and balances out the high salaries of Gordon Hayward and Horford.
3. Positional flexibility: The emphasis on versatility across the league is becoming more and more prevalent with each passing year. We saw all postseason long how defensive mismatches were targeted by opponents all game long, to the point that undersized guards and traditional centers were forced off the floor at times. At 6-foot-7, Brown is the ideal player to combat this trend. His athleticism makes him capable of guarding several possessions and he’s quickly developed a 3-point shot that forces defenses to account for him in all areas of the floor. The Celtics aren’t going to move on from Brown at this stage of his development unless they know they are getting a clear upgrade on that front. A draft pick in the middle of the lottery would be far from a sure thing there.
All of this doesn’t mean Brown is untradeable: It just means trade rumors should be ignored when the 21-year-old is named as part of a hypothetical trade package and a player like Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard isn’t the return. Davis isn’t going anywhere this offseason and Leonard’s situation is murky at best. It’s unlikely the C’s make a deal for him at this point given the uncertainty of his future.
The bottom line is that Celtics are likely to make trades this offseason to consolidate areas of the roster. Barring a blockbuster, Brown won't be in any of them.