Jayson Tatum is trading in his Celtics green for red, white and blue this summer as he is one of 12 players on Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics. The 23-year-old is the youngest member of the U.S. roster and is playing in his first Olympics.
There are positives and negatives to Tatum playing in the games. The question for Celtics fans: do the positives outweigh the negatives?
Starting with the positives, playing in the Olympics will provide Tatum a great opportunity to compete against high level competition in the offseason. Team USA hosted a training camp in Las Vegas last week. They have five exhibition games and then will compete in at least six more games in Tokyo.
Competing against some of the best in the world for about a month is a stark contrast to what Tatum did in 2020. During the quarantine shutdown from about March to July, when the NBA resumed in the Orlando “bubble,” the Celtics wing said he didn’t have a hoop to shoot at. So now, at least he will have an opportunity to improve.
Another positive of Tatum playing in the Olympics is the potential for recruiting other players to Boston. Team USA is full of top tier talent, including some guys that are rumored to be on the move, most notably Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal.
“Probably a lot,” Beal told reporters when asked if Team USA will be a place for players to talk about teaming up in the NBA.
In recent years, player recruitment is the most valuable tool when trying to lure free agents or make trades. So, if Tatum can use the next couple of weeks to get in the ears of some NBA stars – primarily Beal, who is a lifelong friend of his – the Olympics could prove to be the moment the Celtics created a super-team. Boston fans would look back on the Tokyo games and thank Tatum for playing.
These positives can also have a negative side, however.
The NBA had back-to-back seasons with very little rest in-between, which has led to an above-average amount of injuries this year. One could argue Tatum should have taken time off to rest and recover. Then, once he was ready to train again, he could call any pro he is close with to train and scrimmage with them. That option would provide Tatum time to recuperate and allow him to practice against high-level competition.
As for recruiting, the question is – is Tatum a recruiter or a recruitee? By all accounts, he doesn’t scream recruiter. He has a more laid back personality and doesn’t seem like he will go out and try to persuade a friend to come to Boston.
So, then the worry becomes Tatum will be the one that is being recruited elsewhere. Instead of Celtics fans looking back on the Olympics being the origin story of their super-team, it could instead be the place where they lost their star.
While both sides have their arguments, Tatum playing in the Olympics has to be seen as a good thing for the Celtics. He is competing against the best of the best, which will only make him better. Plus, the NBA won’t be starting its 2021-2022 season until mid-October, so he will have plenty of time to rest after the games.
The worries about Tatum being recruited are valid, but he very well could be recruited if he didn’t play in the Olympics. All it takes is one text or one phone call these days to form a super-team. His couch is as dangerous of a recruiting place as Tokyo. Playing in the games won’t take that threat off the table, it’ll always be there. Plus, the Celtics need to improve, so why not let Tatum try to be a recruiter.
With risk comes reward, with no risk comes no reward.
“Really Good Market” for Marcus Smart Trade
Towards the top of the Celtics’ offseason to-do list is figuring out how to handle the Marcus Smart situation. The 27-year-old has one more year on his contract before he becomes a free agent. Boston doesn’t want to lose him for nothing in return, so it needs to either offer him a contract extension or find a trade suitor.
On a recent episode of The Ringer’s Bill Simmons Podcast, Simmons spoke with Sports Illustrated Chris Mannix about the Smart situation.
“My feeling is either Marcus gets extended or traded, but it’ll happen in the next six weeks and it’ll be one or the other,” Simmons said. “And I would lean toward the extension.”
The timeframe there is important because each week that passes, Smart’s trade value drops, especially if the Celtics wait until the season begins.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded him for, I don’t know, the seventh pick with the Warriors,” Simmons said. “The 7-9 range is probably his value because I do think contending teams really value him because they’ve seen him in three conference finals teams. They know he could be a fourth or fifth guy on a really good team.”
If the Celtics were to make a trade for a 2021 draft pick, they would have to do it before July 29. Getting a pick in return would also put Boston back in the first round of the upcoming draft, since the C’s traded away their selection in the Kemba Walker deal.
Mannix added that the Trail Blazers could be a possible suitor for Smart. They, too, are going through changes in the front office and have roster rumors.
“If Portland keeps Lillard – that’s why [CJ] McCollum is intriguing for Boston, because Smart would probably complement Lillard differently, at least, than McCollum does,” Mannix said. “The biggest problem in Portland is there’s no defensive backstop there. There’s nobody that can guard wings the way Smart can. So you put Smart next to Lillard, you take a lot of pressure off him in that sense. There’s a really good market for Marcus Smart.”
It seems more likely for the Celtics to offer Smart a contract extension than play the what-if game. However, if Boston decides to deal the point guard, at least it seems like they can get a good return.
Pritchard and Madar Headline Celtics Summer League Team
As the NBA Finals begin to wrap up and the offseason kicks into full gear, the Celtics Summer League roster is starting to take form.
While the whole roster is not complete, Payton Pritchard is confirmed to play for the team, according to Chris Grenham. The guard just came off a rookie season where he averaged eight points and two assists in 19 minutes off the bench. Grenham also reported that Pritchard is not expected to play every game, but will be with the team in Las Vegas.
In addition, Yam Madar will play for the Celtics in the NBA Summer League, according to Moshe Barda. The 6-foot-3 guard prospect was drafted by Boston with the No. 47 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, but played in the Israeli Premier League last season. Madar impressed during that campaign, becoming the league’s youngest player to win the Most Improved Player award, thanks to 17 points and five assists per game.
Madar and Pritchard will be two of the big names for the Celtics heading into the summer league, but they will not be the only ones. Boston will use those games to decide the fate of its young talent, which there is a surplus of.
The NBA Summer League takes place August 8-17 at the University of Nevada.