Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is reportedly "leaning" toward signing a max contract extension when he becomes eligible despite the potential for it to drop in value because of the coronavirus pandemic.
NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely reported Thursday on the Celtics Talk podcast (via HoopsHype) the financial complications of COVID-19 have made the situation murkier as Tatum decides his next step.
"Tatum's got to make some decisions," Blakely said. "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."
Tatum has two seasons left on his four-year, $30 million rookie contract. The Celtics could extend him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent in 2021 worth $13 million in base salary with a $19.8 million cap hit, per Spotrac.
He'll become eligible to sign a max extension this offseason, and the value of that deal was expected to range between $181.25 million and $217.5 million before the pandemic, per Justin Quinn of CelticsWire.
Blakely noted on the Celtics Talk podcast those projections were based on a salary cap that rose to $125 million by the time Tatum's extension started and that there's now "no way in hell that's happening" because of the financial toll of the pandemic.
Tatum was enjoying his best NBA season to date before play was halted in March through 59 appearances: 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.8 threes and 1.4 steals while shooting 44.8 percent from the field (39.8 percent on threes).
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported the 22-year-old Duke product was "concerned" about the potential for injury upon the league's resumption of play in July at the Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida.
The players' insurance policies typically end June 30 for a standard season, which led to talks between union representatives and the league to ensure they'd still be fully covered for the restart, per Bulpett.
Tatum was not among the group of players who informed their teams they'd be sitting out play in Orlando because of health, family or social justice issues, though.
The Celtics ranked third in the Eastern Conference with a 43-21 record when play stopped, and they've clinched a playoff berth ahead of the shortened eight-game finish to the regular season.
At full strength, Boston is perhaps the biggest threat to the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) in the East with Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward as the core.