Boston Celtics

Dec 4, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) greets fans after defeating the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

Speaking for the first time since signing a massive five-year, $195 million rookie extension with the Celtics, a mask could hardly hide Jayson Tatum’s excitement about the opportunity in front of him.

“It’s something that I feel like still hasn’t kicked in yet, but it was a dream come true,” Tatum said of the extension. “I’m extremely grateful, thankful for that [contract]. I don’t take that for granted or take it lightly. I get to be here five more years. I was excited, obviously, [I] wanted to stay here, wanted to make it happen.”

Signing the richest contract in C’s history will certainly come with its expectations. Not that Tatum didn’t mean expectations a year ago.

Named to the All-NBA Third Team, Tatum established career-best marks in points (23.4), rebounds (7.0), assists (3.0), and steals (1.4) per game, and shot 45.0 percent from the field, in 66 games for the Celtics in a 2019-20 season split in pre- and in-pandemic situations. That made him the first Celtic to average 23 point and seven rebounds a game since Paul Pierce in 2002-03, and the first Celtic to make an All-NBA team before turning 23 since Ed Macauley in 1951.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 19: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates a three point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Tatum built on that with a team-leading 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per playoff game inside the Orlando bubble. Tatum also ranked second among Celtics in assists per game, with 5.0 per night. Scoring was the big thing here, really, as Tatum’s 25.7 points were the sixth-most among any playoff talent with at least 10 games played in the 2020 postseason, trailing only Jamal Murray, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden.

Still, Tatum thinks he can be even better.

“I’m still extremely young, so I think every part of my game can get better,” Tatum offered. “From a more efficient standpoint, [I can] continue to get stronger, extending my range, and be more efficient shooting [from] deeper, creating off the dribble, off the catch, and finishing better through contact. Becoming even more of a defensive presence [next season], I think that’s a big goal for me.”

Well, that’s exactly what the Celtics want to hear after inking the former No. 3 overall pick to a contract worth almost $200 million. And a truly terrifying thought for the rest of the NBA.

This deal also confirmed the inevitable: Tatum is the face of the Celtics. With former max free agent additions like Gordon Hayward and Al Horford out of the picture over the last two seasons (and same for superstar addition Kyrie Irving), it’s on Tatum to be the guy now. He’s the undeniable No. 1 to lead this team to a championship.

There’s a natural pressure there, but it’s one that Tatum isn’t necessarily forcing on himself at 23.

“I don’t walk around here saying that it’s my team,” said Tatum. “I don’t take that approach. Like everybody else, I show up to work, do my job to the best of my abilities, and just go out there and play.

“We all play for the Celtics. We all play a part in the team’s success.”

But Tatum’s part will certainly be greater than the rest if he’s going to make another dream a reality for himself and the C’s.

Sidelines Podcast

Ty Anderson and Matt Dolloff talked about Jayson Tatum and much more in the newest episode of the Sidelines Podcast on Wednesday. Have a listen below.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.