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Caris LeVert’s extension could impact how Celtics approach one player

Nick Friar
August 27, 2019 - 11:41 pm
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Up until recently, Caris LeVert was set to be one of the more desirable names in an underwhelming 2020 NBA free agency class. But the Nets didn’t want to take any chances with him on the open market, so they came to terms on a three-year extension worth $52.5 million, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. (No player option in the deal either, even though that’s essentially become standard for players in the final year of their contract.)

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The only reason this means anything to the Celtics — outside of an Eastern Conference opponent ensuring it keeps one of its important pieces — is LeVert was in the same position as Jaylen Brown.

They’re in the final year of their rookie deals and were set to become restricted free agents after 2019-20. LeVert, obviously, won’t now. Brown is still in positon to see what else is out there next summer.

Both were taken in the 2016 NBA Draft. Brown was the third pick. LeVert was No. 20. Brown turns 23 in October. LeVert just turned 25.

Let’s look at their numbers from the last two years — ignoring their rookie season because both clearly needed a year to get acclimated.

One of them — who we’ll call “Player X” — averaged 13.8 points per game over the last two seasons while posting a 46.5 field goal percentage and a 37.1 three-point percentage. Also, tack on 4.6 rebounds a night and a steal per game.

The other, “Player Y,”  shot 43.3% from the floor and 33.3% from deep. “Player Y” averaged 12.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He also logged 1.1 steals and 4.1 assists a game. (“Player X” averaged 1.5 assists per game.)

Brown is “Player X”. There’s not a huge difference, based on these stats.

LeVert also suffered a dislocated foot last year, though he did play well when he returned and averaged 21 points per game while shooting 49.3% (46.2% from three) in the five games the Nets played in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Brown, of course, has far more playoff experience.

Either way, this isn’t about who’s the better player. They’re on a similar enough level for the sake of the point — which is: if LeVert can get an extension, Brown should be able to, as well.

Now, the Nets are in the process of a change in ownership, which could have motivated them to lock up LeVert to help secure the future. Whereas the Celtics are obviously in a much different spot toward the top of the organization.

But why should Brown care about that? He’s overseas, representing the U.S. with some Celtics teammates — outshooting everyone, by the way — and he sees a guy who was drafted after him getting a decent chunk of change. Also, keep in mind, the Celtics supposedly had the chance to acquire Kawhi Leonard when he was getting shipped out of San Antonio. Brown was reportedly the centerpiece of the package the Spurs were asking for. Obviously, there was a lot of risk in making the move for Leonard, but everyone knew — and witnessed — the possible payoff.

So if the Celtics valued Brown so much then, wasn’t the plan to invest in him later? Or was he part of a different plan that didn’t work out — meaning the bid for Anthony Davis. Because if the Celtics value him as much as they seem to, why not work out a deal? If he has a good year, he’s only going to warrant more money. If he doesn’t, well, there’s a good chance that’ll be a direct reflection of how the team is performing in 2019-20. Because they need him.

So, if you’re the Celtics, do you really want to spend the year hoping the team plays well while one of your supposed foundational pieces doesn’t continue to develop, only to get him on the cheap later, then hope he gets back on track? At this stage, that’s what a non-move feels like — unless the Celtics never planned to invest in Brown or are unsure about his potential at this point, which again begs the question about the handling of the Leonard situation.