I’ve talked about Jaylen Brown more in therapy than maybe any other basketball player. No more than any other human being. That would be silly. But basketball players? Certainly. He still comes up more than he should. Probably more than any basketball player should. But these are my therapy sessions and therefore my analogies to play with. you work for me; I didn’t ask if they were for Dr. Bailey work, but she didn’t ask either.
There’s never been a professional athlete I’ve felt as connected to as Brown. I’m referring to his experience of anxiety, the voices in his head that he previously had trouble silencing. Back in February 2020, he told Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks, “It was tough,” referring to the 2018-19 season, which saw Brown briefly lose his starting spot and the Celtics losing more games than preseason forecasters expected. “I suffer from great anxiety. When you have so many expectations, especially in a city like Boston, you want to win. If you don’t perform, you start to lose your confidence. You start to doubt yourself.”
While the fears he’s detailed in the past are mostly on the basketball court — that is, according to what he’s detailing — I can understand them. For one, the nagging thoughts of inadequacy in your field; I never stop being a better writer, editor, reader and listener. The idea that others around you, proven or not, might look down on you, whether it’s out of sheer spite or in an effort to pick themselves up. This is arguably more common in professional sports than in any other area of the world apart from politics. They call it trash talk for a reason, the same reason you might say someone is “talking a big game.”
Maybe that’s why I understand the urge Brown must have like a tweet He referenced how he is being disrespected by Celtics fans amid swirling rumors of Brown’s inclusion in a hypothetical deal to take over Kevin Durant after he asked the Brooklyn Nets for a trade. Or his impulse to respond to Draymond Green’s comments about winning Brown’s “heart” in the NBA Finals. On a paired podcast recording of Green’s The Draymond Green Show and JJ Redick’s The Old Man and the Three, Green opined that “when Jaylen Brown went to the media and said, ‘He tried to pull my shorts down,’ said I knew I was taking his heart.” Brown responded accordingly, saying Green had “lost his dam [sic] mind” and “could never” win his heart.
You can hardly blame Brown for jumping to his own defense or making a big play about his own skills in response to an opposing player praising his. Since arriving in 2016, he has been at the heart of Boston’s token trade, despite the team’s glowing appreciation of his being a star, the city’s love for him, and their loyalty and mutual feelings.
This, of course, is both a compliment and a plight for Brown. He’s tasked with running a franchise that pundits are constantly saying should be removed. “Would the Celtics [make Brown available in a trade for Durant]? Yes. It’s Durantula! KD! The slender reaper!” Brian Scalabrine recently told NBC Sports Boston.
The Athletic’s Jay King and Jared Weiss went back and forth on the subject yesterday, the former wrote, “For a franchise that talks about championship banners more than anyone else, it seems like even a few years with Durant alongside Jayson Tatum would be worth sacrificing a successful future with Brown”, and the latter wonders, like Jayson Tatum would love to have Durant join the mix. “It is one thing to give up the limelight in international competition and another when a young man does so early in his NBA career after leading a team to the finals,” King wrote. “[Tatum] takes care of the right things. But it would be a big change for him to fit alongside a player of Durant’s caliber. That’s Tatum’s franchise right now. It wouldn’t be if the Celtics [acquired] Duration.”
On the other hand, what Brown has processed and is currently experiencing, if only marginally, is part of being a pro, especially in the NBA. Think of CJ McCollum, who hung forever in Portland’s trade talks until finally being shipped off to New Orleans (a great fit, it turned out). Fittingly, he was Damian Lillard’s second banana, similar to how some might say Brown is for Tatum.
But there are differences between these franchises and their long-term plans — after a while, it seemed McCollum as a partner for Dame didn’t make sense anymore, while Brown and Tatum found immense success leading the Celtics to four Conference Finals appearances together and an NBA Finals berth during her tenure.
It’s also fitting that this assignment is an exit interview with Jaylen Brown, which ties into all the talk of him leaving the Celtics franchise at the behest of the coach-turned-GM who drafted him. Just a year later, he was a borderline All-Star, a borderline champion, and a borderline career best average in almost every category.
Notice a trend?
With the NBA calendar moving at the speed of light, it’s incredibly easy for us to forget what happened just a few weeks or even months ago. While Brown’s 2021-22 season was full of highlights — 46 points in an opening night loss to the Knicks, each point caused anyone who spent the summer calling for the Jays’ breakup to cringe a little more; a 1950s bombshell in early January – it too ended with a whimper. He averaged 23.1 points per game on 47 percent shooting in the postseason. But he also amassed 3.1 sales per contest and recorded 10 more than four giveaways and seven sales twice.
That’s nightmare fuel for fans and players alike when you play against the 2.0 edition of one of the best offenses in NBA history. And it’s not as if Brown just got lax with the ball in the postseason; this has been a persistent problem for a long time. Are you trading a player just because of ball handling issues? Of course not. Trade him for Kevin Durant? At least you think about it.
None of the reports that have emerged following Durant’s trade request have indicated that the Celtics would, could, or will, make a deal for the superstar. The Nets likely plan to keep Durant’s list of preferred teams, the Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat, in mind when looking for a potential partner. But if Brad Stevens plans to call Sean Marks (and if I’m a betting guy, he does), the first name Marks will come up with is Jaylen Browns. Be ready to hear this report; Be prepared for the possibility that it will come to fruition, albeit small.
Whether or not Stevens resists that idea could shape the Celtics’ immediate future in a way potentially as influential as Brown left his fingerprints on their entire past. From difficult seasons to a trip to the Finals, Brown has been as important a Celtic as Tatum. Nothing can change that.
Raising an 18th Banner can also no longer be changed, at least symbolically. Whether Brown is in a Celtics uniform to don is now one of the biggest questions facing the franchise. Just like he was in 2017, 18 and so on.
Apparently nothing has changed. Willy-nilly.