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Jayson Tatum exit interview: A step closer to superstardom

It’s been a season of growth for Jayson Tatum, and the scary part is, he’s not done yet.

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Dear Jayson Tatum,

It’s been a wild year. New head coach. Your former head coach moving into the front office. An amazing NBA Finals run, despite a sluggish start to the season. You’ve put your name among the league’s elite and earned All-NBA honors as a result.

And yet, you’re still years away from being the best version of yourself, and that’s scary. But let’s be honest, Jayson, when the season began, you weren’t at your best, not by a long shot. To some extent, your struggles were understandable, I mean, you had not long returned from winning an Olympic gold medal, and have scarcely rested your body over the last three years. Fatigue was bound to set in at some point, even if it was fleeting, and even though you would never use it as an excuse.

“I’m no different from any of the other guys that went to The Finals last year, hopped on a plane, came and played in the Olympics, and then started the season, I guess it is a lot, but it only seems like that if you think about it in that way. I get paid to play basketball. It’s been my dream since I was three years old. So, I’m going to play as often as I can for as long as I can.”

But Jayson, we needed something, anything, to blame for your poor shooting to begin the year. Heck, at one point, we were all blaming the change in the actual basketball! And of course, your individual struggles were only exasperated by the struggles of the team, and rightly or wrongly, the two issues were tied together as one.

Luckily, things changed after new year, and we began to see your game flourish. It’s been almost two years since the notion of utilizing you as a playmaker first arose, and until the mid-way point of this season, seeing you become an elite facilitator seemed nothing more than a pipe dream.

You’ve proven us wrong, though. Suddenly, your ability to read a defense, get the ball out of your hands quickly, and manipulate opponents with your gravity have all improved, creating a true point-forward as a result. Sure, it’s not always pretty. Sometimes the turnovers leave us shaking our heads. But on the whole, it’s clear you’ve been putting in the work behind the scenes, and have become a well-rounded offensive threat as a result.

I must say, seeing you pressure the rim more has been great fun, especially as you’ve begun to embrace contact and work out of the post more frequently. You’re built for a bully-ball style of play, Jayson — regardless of how much you love to finesse your opponents.

The same can be said on defense, where you’ve embraced your role as a wing stopper and off-ball pest. Your size, length, and underrated athleticism ensure you have all the tools to be a genuine defensive force at the three and four positions. While your footspeed, hip flexibility, and screen navigation all allow you to slide up or down positions for short spurts.

We throw the term “two-way wing” around far too casually these days, when in fact, it should be reserved for the select few who can impact the court on both sides of the floor, and yes, you’re one of those select few. But you already knew that. How else would you have made the All-Star team and an All-NBA First Team?

Oh, and who can forget the fact that you were the inaugural winner of the Larry Bird trophy or better known as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP?

This leads us to the most important part of the season: the playoffs. And what a post-season you had!

We all saw you callously hunting mismatches throughout the post-season, we all saw you dominate Kevin Durant, and go toe-to-toe with Giannis Antetokounmpo. We all saw you clutching your shoulder after every bump in the later rounds, and we all saw you shake it off every time.

We all saw the pride in your eyes when you sat in front of the media before making your first-ever NBA Finals appearance, and we all saw the anguish behind the smile when the final hurdle you faced was slightly too big of a jump.

“This is tough, getting to this point and not accomplishing what we wanted to. It hurts. You know, we all could have done things better. I feel like I could have done a lot of things better. But, you know, like we said, we competed, we tried all season, all playoffs.”

So, don’t listen to the vocal minority, the ones who claim you don’t have any “dog” in you. That narrative has been constructed by local sports radio personalities, and hosts on panel shows that thrive on debate - they’re supposed to say egregious things. Unfortunately, as the face of the Boston Celtics, your name generates clicks, it generates interest and social media buzz - but it doesn’t make what they’re saying true.

At the end of the day, millions of Celtics fans around the world witnessed you take your game to the next level this season. From the playmaking and rebounding to the on-ball defense and smarter shot selection. You went from a borderline star to a borderline superstar in under 12 months, and that’s one heck of a jump to take.

“It’s tough. You got to take it up another level to do what we want to do.”

Now, I implore you to take your own advice. If there was ever a time to double-down on your development and force yourself deeper into unchartered waters, it’s this summer. You’re on the precipice of becoming genuinely great, somebody with all the tools to write their own legacy - we’ve known that for a while now, but the time for waiting is over. The transformation is almost complete, but only you can take that final step, Jayson, and I’m sure you’ve already formulated the blueprint on how you’re going to do it.

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