Jaylen Brown was on top of the world at the end of last season. Injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving allowed Brown, along with Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, to take centre stage as the Boston Celtics pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to Game Seven in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Irving and Hayward returned for the start of this campaign. Brown began in the line-up but has found himself on the bench since returning from injury. He looked the most likely to be squeezed by the role changes at the start of the year, and that’s just how it has turned out.
Hayward has taken time getting into rhythm and Al Horford has struggled. Brown, though, has had perhaps the biggest adaptation. Even when he was starting, he was little more than a defensive specialist. His shooting has dropped off alarmingly (to below 30% from three) and he faces a battle to get back in the regular starting five with Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris playing well.
Brown returned to the line-up for Boston’s Wednesday night loss to Phoenix because Morris was unavailable. He struggled with just six points. The youngster was more effective when coming off the bench, with +16, +26 and +11 in three straight games against the Knicks, Bulls and Pelicans. Brown looked something like the offensive player we saw in the playoffs, though he then notched a combined six points against the Hawks and Pistons in over 44 minutes.
He moved back to the bench for Friday’s loss to the Bucks and recorded 21 points. Inconsistency at this point in his career is a concern.
At the time, trading for Leonard was obviously a risk. His injury situation was uncertain, and it was impossible to tell if he would return to the top-five player he is right now. Brown was only on the way up, and with a bit of imagination you could have seen him becoming a Leonard-type player (though unlikely to be quite at that level).
Hindsight would be a handy life skill. It would be particularly useful for NBA trades. It made sense (probably) for Boston to hold onto Brown rather than flip him for a year of Leonard in the summer. Right now, though, that looks a mistake from Danny Ainge – and it’s not often we can say that.
Leonard has made Toronto the Warriors’ biggest challengers. Boston are still struggling to make their deep roster work, particularly on offence. It would have been a risk, but there must be people in the organisation wondering why they didn’t take the gamble on a player as transformative as Leonard.