When last we left the Boston Celtics, Jayson Tatum was ballin’.
The Duke product, who spent his summer under the tutelage of Kobe Bryant in 2018, had finally blossomed into the superstar we all knew he had in him. He was a dual-threat who could score with ease and just so happened to be one of the best defenders in the league.
Then the coronavirus happened and suddenly the NBA had far more questions than answers.
In the months since, the league has answered a lot of those questions: Will the season resume? Will fans be a part of the experience? But one question that remains—as teams are expected to take some major financial Ls in both this season and the next—is what happens to players like Tatum who were expected to sign massive, max contracts?
League profit margins and team salary caps have a symbiotic relationship. If your dad gets laid off, you think you’d still be collecting an allowance? The salary cap works the same way.
The league is hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So as a result, the salary cap will unquestionably drop after this season. That means teams will have less money to sign players, and consequently, the value of max contracts will take a hit too. And guess who was about to be offered a max contract this offseason? Mr. Jayson Tatum.
Will the Celtics still offer him a max deal? Hell yeah, they will. Prior to the pandemic, the max was worth between $181.25 million and $217.5 million—but that was back when Dad still had a job. So if you’re expecting your dad to give you $10 on Friday, and instead he’s like, “I’m sorry, but all I can afford is $7 a week until I get back on my feet,” do you take the $7 upfront or wait on that $10? That’s the exact predicament that Tatum is in.
Because if he signs his deal now at the lower rate now, once a vaccine is mass-produced and the league gets back on his feet, his deal could look insanely cheap in comparison to others in the future.
If I’m the Celtics, I’m offering him the $7 and treating him to ice cream afterward. Because anytime you can increase your financial flexibility aaaaand get a player of Tatum’s caliber on the cheap—relatively speaking—it’s a win. But if I’m Tatum, do I really want $7 when I deserve $10?
“Tatum’s got to make some decisions,” A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston said on the Celtics Talk podcast. “Do I sign for your four or five-year extension? Or do I play it out and just become a restricted free agent and hope that the cap goes up afterwards so then I can sign a max still for more money? From what I’m being told, Jayson at this point is leaning towards signing [a] max deal when he’s eligible and going from there.”
I think it’s safe to say that Tatum will have a lot more on his mind than just an NBA championship when the season resumes on July 30.