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NBA’s $300 million man, Jaylen Brown ready to step into leadership role for retooled Celtics

Early in his NBA career, Jaylen Brown was largely viewed as a player who would be a component of the Boston Celtics’ long-term success, rather than a pillar of its foundation.

When big-name stars would become available during free agency, Brown was often a potential trade chip.

As he prepares for his eighth season, his play has forced the narrative to be rewritten.

Last season was defining for Brown, who garnered his second All-Star selection and second-team All-NBA nod while helping lead the Celtics within a game of back-to-back NBA Finals appearances.

In July he cashed inm signing a five-year, $304 million extension, the richest contract in NBA history. It immediately thrust him onto a tier reserved for only the league’s most elite stars.

It comes with expectations and a weight that Brown has yet to experience. Not as the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2016, or even as a teammate of four-time All-Star and teammate Jayson Tatum. But on a new-look Celtics’ roster that has lost some of its loudest locker room voices, Brown says he is ready and willing to be the playmaker and leader the Celtics need to make the most of their current championship window.

“I feel great. I feel poised. I feel ready to have a great year,” Brown said. “I put in a lot of work trying to make plays, trying to get guys open. Trying to get our offense set. Seeing the game, reading the game. Overall, just being a better basketball player. Can’t wait to show it this year.”

In addition to locking up Brown long-term, Boston dramatically remade its core this offseason, flipping former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and rim protector Robert Williams III in a series of trades that netted 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis and defensive stalwart Jrue Holiday.

This all while second-year coach Joe Mazzulla shook up his coaching staff, bringing in assistants Charles Lee and Sam Cassell to help put Mazzulla’s stamp on the team in his second season.

It has required a reset of the locker room culture and called for new voices to step up. For most of their careers Brown and Tatum have been mostly content to let their play speak for them. But Brown acknowledges that this new group will need their voices to be louder than ever.

Still, his approach to this new team dynamic will be straightforward.

“Just stepping into it,” Brown said. “I think we’ve got a lot of voices that are no longer with us — Blake (Griffin), Grant (Williams), Smart. All very vocal guys. So, I think, definitely, hearing my voice, JT’s voice a little bit more this season.”

It’s what will help turn a collection of talent into a formidable team.

“Can’t just throw some guys out there and expect everything to work. Our habits are going to create our future and our success,” Brown said. “I’m excited about the journey.”

Last season, Brown averaged career highs in points (26.6), rebounds (6.9) and assists (3.5). The same is true for Tatum (30.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists).

Yet both should benefit from the defensive length and ability to stretch provided by Porzingis and the defense and floor command Holiday brings.

Neither Brown nor Tatum will also have to facilitate as much on offense with Holiday’s proven ability to create for his teammates.

Still, there will likely be an odd man out at times with a top six featuring Brown, Tatum, Porzingis, Holiday, Derrick White and veteran Al Horford who are all used to garnering a certain amount of playing time.

It’s a good problem to have, Tatum insists.

“Essentially we’ve probably got six starters and we can only play five people. Only five guys can finish a game,” Tatum said. “So, between those six guys, any given night somebody might come off the bench. Somebody might not finish. And it’s on all of us to understand that whoever’s night it is, it’s for the better of the team. And we really have to buy into that. It’s not easy sacrificing, but at some point we all have to do it.”

It’s a view shared by Mazzulla.

“We’re all going to have to give up little pieces of ourselves until we got to where we want to get to,” he said.

Credit: AP

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