On Tuesday, the Boston Celtics inked Jaylen Brown to a supermax extension and the numbers are nothing short of obscene. The new deal is worth a whopping $304 million over five years, meaning Brown will make $60 million per season over the life of the contract. An absolutely massive haul -- and one that many are calling an overpay from the outset.
The argument for why it's an overpay isn't complicated. Brown averaged 26.6 points per game last season and made second-team All-NBA at 26 years old, but the last time we saw him on the court, he was simply awful. Brown averaged 19 points per game against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, shooting 41 percent from the field and an atrocious 16 percent from three, while averaging 3.6 turnovers per contest. His pièce de résistance of bad play came in Game 7. Jayson Tatum got hurt on the first play of the game and was clearly hobbled. It all fell on Brown to propel his team to a historic comeback. And, as Brown himself said in the postgame press conference, he failed. He shot 8-for-23, including 1-of-9 from three, and recorded five turnovers in the 19-point loss.
Scoring points in bunches in the regular season is all well and good but players are paid to win when it matters most. Brown has been in a ton of playoff games in his career and has generally played well. Even this postseason he averaged nearly 25 points per game in the first two rounds of the playoffs. But collapsing like he did in an elimination game leaves a bad taste in everybody's mouth. To then see him receive the richest contract in NBA history? It's only natural the discourse is falling like this.
In a vacuum, Brown is not worth $60 million a year. Hell, I don't know if there are more than five NBA players worth that much. But as we know, folks, sports are not played in a vacuum. And while the price tag is absolutely outlandish, the Celtics had to do it.
Paying $300 million to a guy who will always be the second option while Tatum is still on the team feels crazy. But it has been proven time and time again that no one NBA player can win a championship on their own. The Celtics are not giving Brown all this money with the expectation that he can be the best player on a championship team. They are paying him to be Tatum's No. 2. To be the guy behind the superstar who picks up the slack when necessary, a trait all title teams have. That makes the contract an overpay, because all logic suggests only the very best players should make $300 million, but it was also necessary.
This was the only path for the Celtics. They were the only team who could give Brown this much money. If they didn't, then he would've taken it as a sign of disrespect and left in free agency next offseason, leaving the team no way to replace him. They couldn't have even traded him in that scenario (or at least not for anything worthwhile) because star players on expiring contracts are always a threat to leave and no team is giving up the farm with that kind of risk. A sign-and-trade was not permissible under CBA rules. This decision boiled down to either overpaying Brown or losing him for close to nothing. He may not be a top-10 NBA player but he's definitely top-20 and his All-NBA selection suggests he's closer to top-15. These are marginal differences but they do matter.
And, as always, there will be a lot of hubbub about this being the richest contract in NBA history. That side of the narrative will be forgotten by this time next year when someone else signs a supermax and takes the label for themselves. The cap will keep rising but the supermax percentage remains the same. Brown's deal is worth more than Nikola Jokic's $270 million supermax signed last offseason simply because the cap rose from last year to this year, not because the Celtics think Brown is better than Jokic.
Ultimately it comes down to this -- how much do you think the second-best player on a title contender is worth? If you think $60 million annually is too steep for that type of player, that's a fair stance. NBA teams, though, feel those kinds of players are priceless because winning titles is all that matters and you simply cannot win a title without those kinds of players.
Boston is in as good a position as nearly any team. The Celtics have their superstar cornerstone. Now they have their All-Star, All-NBA sidekick locked down for the next five years. That is where basic NBA team-building starts-- get your two superstars and figure it out from there. The Celtics paid a steep price to ensure they have that foundation. A foundation that guarantees some level of contention every year. And that is a price every team would be willing to pay.