Danny Ainge called the notion that Jayson Tatum would play in the Summer League for the Celtics “crazy” on Wednesday afternoon. After 99 illustrious games to begin his NBA career, he won’t hit the practice gyms alongside his fellow rookies and sophomores.
Despite constant references to his age, he proved he superseded the need to crush the competition that he would have met him in Las Vegas.
Tatum entered the league so ready to dominate and seize the reigns of the Celtics’ offense in 2017-18, that as he walked off the court after Game 7 receiving long consolation with the Cavaliers who barely outlasted him, the thought he’d return to Summer League likely crossed few people’s minds. Nevertheless, Ainge officially ruled it out.
This will be the first time that a Celts rookie won’t follow up their debut campaign by returning to the Summer League under Brad Stevens. Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown a season ago all participated despite looking far above the quality of play in Utah and Las Vegas.
The Celts dismissed all three early, but for Tatum the thought of returning a player of this caliber to that competition period was deemed insane immediately.
Instead Semi Ojeleye, Kadeem Allen and possibly Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis if he’s recovered in time will likely shape out the Boston roster. The 27th overall pick in this year’s draft will also be slated to participate.
James Young broke the mold a few years ago by proving that a player beyond two years of experience can return for a few more reps as well in a telling sign his days with the team were numbered.
This year the Celtics will depart from their usual participation in the early Utah leg of the Summer League. That only leaves games at MGM in Vegas, where all 30 teams will play. That’s the first time such a feat will occur as the league looks to consolidate its yearly event into one location.
The schedule usually drops in early July, along with Boston’s roster and coach. In the past Walter McCarty, Micah Shrewsberry and Jerome Allen have headed the C’s roster while Brad Stevens watches from the crowd. This year likely won’t draw the same fanfare as Tatum exits the fold and the Celts drop from the lottery.
Yet the thought that Tatum wouldn’t appear in that atmosphere didn’t strike as much of a surprise as it was a reminder of how early his game transformed from college potential to NBA stardom. He’ll finish in the top three of Rookie of the Year voting in a stacked class that features Donovan Mitchell and the controversial-to-some candidacy of Ben Simmons.
The move isn’t unprecedented, even for this draft class as the Lakers pull Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma from their summer slate. More players, mostly coming off injuries, exit the fold every year.
Ainge pointed toward the games played, going from under 1,000 minutes at Duke to over 3,000 in his first year in the NBA as the reason for pulling him. He will focus on unnamed points of improvement the team stressed in his exit interview. It’ll be hard to find many, but after a season where he miraculously discarded draft day worries about his defense and three-point shot another surprise addition to his polished skillset could be in store.
In his first and only Summer League stint, Tatum teased the eventual resurgence of the Philly-Boston rivalry that returned in the postseason. After the Celts traded the No. 1 overall pick to add future stock and draft Tatum third, he topped the first choice Markelle Fultz with a game-winning shot.
“He’s just built for stardom,” LeBron James observed after dueling with him in game seven in Boston. “He’s built for success.”