The spectator sport that is the NBA offseason has become can’t-miss TV (or Twitter) as the game’s biggest stars ping-pong around via free agency and trade.
It’s a whirlwind to watch.
Imagine seeing your name enter the chaos.
Jayson Tatum is back this week, returning to his hometown once again for a blitz of camps, charity work and family time.
No surprise there.
From his annual youth skills camp at his school alma mater, Chaminade, to his recent donation of a basketball court to the Wohl Recreation Center, Tatum continues to walk the talk when it comes to giving back to St. Louis.
What is a bit of a surprise — for those who gobble up NBA trade speculation — is that Tatum will be returning to Boston for his third NBA season.
For months, the future of New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis dominated the rumor mill. Before the free agent paired up with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, there was no shortage of chatter about the Celtics potentially trading for Davis to pair with point guard Kyrie Irving.
The return for a Davis trade would have been costly.
The return for a Davis trade could have included Tatum.
“It was a long season,” Tatum admitted Thursday afternoon in the Chaminade gym that holds his retired preps jersey. “I would keep hearing my name traded with Anthony Davis. People were always asking me how I felt about it. For me, Anthony Davis is a top-five guy in the league. So, them (potentially) trading me for somebody of that caliber means I was doing something well. I just try to control what I can control. I’m happy to still be on the Celtics.”
In the end, it was the team that changed around Tatum instead of Tatum changing teams.
Davis is a Laker. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are Clippers. Irving is a Net, along with Kevin Durant.
After losing Irving to Brooklyn and veteran forward Al Horford to the rival 76ers, Boston is turning toward 21-year-old Tatum as one of the emerging faces of a new-look roster. Tatum and 22-year-old teammate Jaylen Brown are moving up in terms of opportunity. Point guard Kemba Walker is in, along with big man Enes Kanter. Gordon Hayward has more distance from his gruesome leg injury in 2017 and hopes to return to his All-Star form. Bulldog defender Marcus Smart is back. Boston also added two first-round picks via the draft in Indiana’s Romeo Langford and Tennessee’s Grant Williams.
Expectations remain unchanged. Tatum, who proudly supported his hometown Blues during their clash with the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, knows it’s championships or bust in Boston.
“We have the best fans, and they expect the best,” Tatum said. “It was like that when I went to Duke. It brings the best out of you.”
It says a lot about Tatum’s basketball career to this point that his sophomore NBA season could be described as the first that handed him much on-court adversity.
He cruised to a state title at Chaminade, winning every prep award possible. He lived up to sky-high expectations during his one-and-done season at Duke, then became the third pick in the draft. He stood out as a rookie on a Celtics team that took James and his Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Final.
This past season, Tatum did take small steps forward in terms of minutes played (31.1 per game), points (15.7 per game) and rebounds (six). But his field-goal percentage dipped a bit, and his once-stellar 3-point percentage declined by 6 percent.
After ranking fifth in his draft class in the all-encompassing stat of points, assists and rebounds per game (20.5) as a rookie, Tatum (23.9) is now eighth in that group after two seasons. He didn’t fall back as much as others gained ground. Part of that — even if Tatum won’t confirm it — might have had something to do with the constant speculation that surrounded Irving, Tatum and their team.
Now that most of the dust has settled, the Celtics have less proven firepower, but a better vibe. And the NBA has fewer super-teams and more parity.
“It’s going to be one of the most exciting years in the NBA in a long time,” Tatum said. “It really is wide open. A lot of talent on both sides, East and West. I can’t wait for it to start.”
Tatum’s goal for the Celtics is to return to the postseason and go deeper than last year’s semifinals exit. Personally, he wants to make his first All-Star Game. He’s thrilled to be playing alongside Walker.
When asked about his new teammate, Tatum grinned. Irving’s wait to pick his new team became a weight in Boston. The arrival of the three-time All-Star was well-received.
“I’m super, super excited to have Kemba,” Tatum said. “He’s a great leader. He’s a dynamic scorer. He has been in the league a long time. Great personality. The guys are going to love him. I spent some time with him this summer. He’s super excited to get to Boston. Everybody’s happy.”
Tatum is happy to know his long second season is behind him, and happy to know his basketball hometown is still Boston.
“It’s a great feeling, to know you have earned the trust of the coaching staff and the front office,” he said. “It makes me motivated, with the rest of the guys. Last year is behind us.”
His best is still ahead.