Jaylen Brown tumbled into the Celtics offseason, playing his worst imaginable game at the worst possible time. His Game 7 Eastern Conference finals no-show against the Heat will go down as one of the ugliest big-game disappearing acts in Boston sports history.
Yet as bad as Brown was in Monday night’s loss to Miami, recency bias should not goad the Celtics into letting him go. The Celtics should sign Brown to a super-max contract, even with the hint of bitterness that comes with swallowing the expensive pill. There are legitimate concerns for sure, but giving up on a 26-year-old talent who is just entering his athletic prime smacks of an old Irish warning my mother used to tell us Sullivan siblings: Don’t bite off your nose to spite your face.
Moving on from Brown, either by not offering the super-max deal or by trading him before even discussing it, would feel born of spite, stemming from the lingering pain over the premature end of a season that was built on title dreams. Not all of that falls on Brown, but visions of him turning the ball over again and again (and again) will haunt many a nightmare, one set to a soundtrack of yet another 3-pointer clanging off the rim.
Brown’s nightmarish night — 8-for-23 shooting and a career-high 8 turnovers — was a huge reason the Celtics failed to complete their historic comeback from an 0-3 hole. The worst part of it was his complete inability to step up when fellow “Jay” Jayson Tatum was forced to hobble his way through the game after twisting his ankle in the opening seconds.
We know it. The Celtics know it. Brown knows it.
“Just a terrible game,” Brown acknowledged. “When my team needed me most, like JT hurt his ankle first play of the game, and you could see it swelling up on him. He couldn’t move out there. It was tough for him.
“My team turned to me to make plays and I came up short. I failed. It’s tough. I give credit to Miami, but just a terrible job.”
But not enough to cost him a job here in Boston, not enough to cost him a chance to finish the job here in Boston. Bring him back, keep him next to the 25-year-old Tatum, and build around a core that has the chance to be Celtic lifers.
It won’t be easy, not with the impending super-max contract due Tatum and the looming salary-cap constraints that go into effect for the 2024-25 season. Two super-max players is great talent-wise, but on the business side, it means committing up to 70 percent of the salary-cap room to just two players, leaving little room and lots of punishment for going above the tax line. But it also means you have two of the league’s best players, in their prime, growing together.
Operating a sports business is an expensive proposition, yet the objective shouldn’t change: Winning. The Celtics’ odds of winning are much, much better with Brown on the team.
From a pure basketball perspective, two-way talent like Brown’s doesn’t come around often. And when a player you drafted third overall develops the way he has — Brown’s selection to an All-NBA team this year triggers his right to a $295 million, five-year extension beginning in 2024-25 — it doesn’t make sense to let someone else reap the reward.
Right now, with the sting of such recent disappointment, it feels as if Brown, Tatum, and the rest of this current Celtics group will never get over the championship hump. But past failure can also predict future greatness, serving as motivation and fuel to reach the summit.
LeBron James, drafted into the NBA at age 18, was 27 when he won his first title. In seven years in the NBA, Brown has been to five Eastern Conference finals and one NBA Finals. He’s so close he can taste it. And he’s young enough to keep trying, just like Tatum, who wants his partner around.
“It’s extremely important,” Tatum said. “He’s one of the best players in this league. He plays both ends of the ball and still is relatively young. And he’s accomplished a lot so far in his career. So, I think it’s extremely important.”
Brown had a tough time thinking about his future in the moments after Monday’s loss, taking long pauses before finally saying he didn’t know how to answer a question about his thought process. But overall, he did sound like someone who knows the Celtics’ championship window is still open, and someone who wants to help lead the way through to the other side.
“You take it on the chin,” he said. “You learn from it. As hard as this one is right now to swallow, you get better.
“It’s a tough one. Tough one. Tough one for me. Tough one for our team. Tough one for our organization. Extremely bad timing.
“You just, you learn. That’s a part of the journey. This is not the end. We got a lot better to get, a lot of better basketball to play, and you just got to look at it like that. But tough night.”
Did you hear him? “This is not the end.”
Nor should it be. Not for Brown, not here in Boston. Sign him, Celtics, and leave the trade talk for later.