By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In case you had any doubt, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made it clear: the Boston Celtics were not leaving the 2017 NBA Draft without Jayson Tatum.
Talking with ESPN’s Zach Lowe on “The Lowe Post” last week — and after Tatum revealed that he initially wanted to land in Phoenix as a member of the Suns and not with Boston — Ainge touched on the team’s road to Tatum and how he was always going to be their guy.
“Jayson was never going to end up in Phoenix,” Ainge, who swindled an extra first-round pick out of the Sixers to move down from No. 1 to No. 3 and still got Tatum, told Lowe. “Even if he didn’t come in for that second workout with us a few days before the draft in Boston, we were still going to take Jayson Tatum.”
In case you missed Tatum’s appearance on the “All The Smoke” podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, Tatum had originally eyed Phoenix for its warm weather, and the fact that he’d be able to have a big house with a pool and with his mom by his side. Tatum was so sold on Phoenix (or on not becoming a Celtic) that he didn’t even want to fly out to Boston for a second workout with Ainge and Co. much to the chagrin of his agent. Tatum didn’t even entertain the idea until his college coach at Duke, the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, called and sold him on the opportunity in Boston.
“Coach K called me right after my agent did and he was like, ‘Jayson, the Celtics called, they want you to come work out. I think Brad Stevens is a great coach and it’s a great place to be. You’ll learn a lot,'” Tatum said. “I’m like, ‘Ugh, all right. I’ll go.’”
But Coach K’s intervention was just the least of the divine intervention that brought Tatum to Boston.
The Celtics did bring Markelle Fultz to Boston in the days leading up to the draft, and Ainge even took him to b.good. (The fact that it wasn’t Chipotle should’ve been out first sign that the C’s were sold on Fultz.) Ainge also tried flying out to Sacramento for a workout with Josh Jackson, but Jackson cancelled that workout while Ainge, head coach Brad Stevens, and Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren were already in the air on their cross-country flight to see Jackson. Lonzo Ball was a nonfactor in all of this after the Celtics traded out of the No. 1 overall pick, really, as the whole world knew he was bound for the Lakers. And as fate would have it, all three of those players are now on their second NBA team; Fultz was traded to the Magic for Jonathon Simmons and two picks after injuries limited him to just 33 games in two seasons with Philadelphia. Jackson was arguably the worst player moved in a four-player deal that sent him to Memphis after just two seasons with the Suns. Ball, meanwhile, was part of the Anthony Davis blockbuster.
Oh, and the Suns reportedly weren’t all that interested in Tatum, apparently, as the team owner said that Tatum would be another Devin Booker and that the team didn’t need that.
(Nah, they nailed it: Jackson was just what they needed.)
But in Boston, Tatum has emerged as a legitimate rising star and No. 1 scoring threat, and was averaging a career-best 23.6 points per game when the league paused its season back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve really enjoyed being in Boston,” Tatum said during his ‘All The Smoke’ appearance. “Playing in the Garden is like no other place; The fans are amazing. Just looking up at the 17 championships that we have and all the great players that came before me… It’s crazy.”
And the Celtics are clearly happy to have a definite draft day win on their hands with Tatum.
“It’s good that we have Jayson, and it’s good that there are stories coming about him and how everybody else would have gotten him,” said Ainge.