If you’re a Boston Celtics fan, your world is probably in a tailspin right now. That’s what happens when credible rumors surface about potentially trading for a superstar — especially when it also means losing two of your team’s best players.
Everyone will have their own feelings on whether the Celtics should, or should not make this deal, and I’m not here to convince you one way or another. However, I am curious about what Kevin Durant’s arrival could mean for Jayson Tatum.
Indulge me a little bit here.
There’s no question that Tatum has evolved as a player over the last twelve months, specifically in how he orchestrates an offense and sets the table for his teammates. We’ve also seen the St. Louis native embrace a more physical brand of basketball, and finally, begin to utilize his ever-growing frame to dislodge defenders. Tatum is developing a mean streak.
Yet, despite his ever-growing control of the game, and poise on the ball, there are times when the defense overloads on Tatum, sometimes to their detriment considering Jaylen Brown’s scoring ability. But, as we know, teams will do anything to get the ball out of the star player's hands.
That wouldn’t happen with Durant on the court, though.
Odds are, even if Durant joins the Celtics, Tatum will still be the primary ball-handler in half-court situations, or at least, he will share the responsibility with KD. He’s improved too much to take the ball out of his hands now.
So, opposing defenses are going to find themselves in a tough spot because you don’t help off a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, regardless of who has the rock. You don’t hedge your bets that Tatum doesn’t make the pass, or spot the rotation, not when the recipient is Durant.
As such, it’s safe to assume that Tatum will be seeing far more daylight in this scenario, especially on the perimeter, before his drive has forced a defensive collapse. Less, defensive pressure means more time to make the right read, or find the right spot. And most importantly, less chance of getting sped up.
On the flip side, Durant’s scoring gravity will ensure Tatum always has room to operate off-ball, be it as a cutter, screener, popper, or even roll-man. You see, Durant’s arrival would switch Boston’s offense from egalitarian to heliocentrism with both Tatum and Durant taking turns to be the sun around which everything else revolves.
Suddenly, Tatum is no longer the clear-cut primary offensive option, but instead, would assume Brown’s role as the supporting star - allowing his decision-making to be more natural, rather than forcing things when the defense bogs down Boston’s rhythm. There’s less pressure to ‘go get a bucket’ or ‘force the defense into a mistake’ — that would be Durant’s job, something which he thrives on.
Beyond simply reducing the amount of defensive pressure on Tatum, Durant’s arrival would also benefit the young star from a developmental standpoint, too. We’ve all heard the stories from Team USA’s gold medal run at the Olympics last season, about how Durant was encouraging Tatum to be the best version of himself, and trust in his abilities.
For years, Tatum and Brown have built each other up, through encouragement and fierce competition. But neither of them boasts the resume that Durant does, so when he empowers you, it must feel liberating.
“I remember being out there in Vegas, the first day we scrimmaged. And I remember we played the Select Team. Kicked our a** the first day. We was out of shape. But I remember coming down on the wing, somebody kicked me the ball, and on the Celtics, I would have shot it. And it was like halfway I coulda shot it. I just remember that KD was to the right of me I passed it to him. I remembered he got mad at me. He was like ‘Yo, don’t look at me. Be yourself, I need you to kill. And I was like ‘damn.’ That was the first time I was like ‘he want me to hoop, too.’ Don’t look at it like that’s KD, we on the same team — like, he need me to do me on this team,” Tatum said during an interview on The Draymond Green Show.
Can you imagine a Tatum that has been unleashed from the expectations that come with being the guy? The freedom that he will play with? All while watching and learning from Durant — his day-to-day training regiment, his pre-game and post-game routine, and his off-season developmental programs. Iron sharpens iron, and there are not many sharper than the Washington native.
I mean, just take how much Robert Williams and Grant Williams have credited being around Al Horford on a daily basis, and the lessons they’ve learned from the opportunity - that’s what Durant would be for Tatum. He’s the Dumbledore to Tatum’s Harry Potter.
Sure, any trade for Durant will be judged on championship rings, and whether the superstar actually honors the remaining four years of his contract. But beyond the obvious, there is a subplot, one that could see Tatum develop into a superstar in his own right, waiting to reclaim his spot as Boston’s alpha dog, except when that happens, we won’t be waiting on him to take the next step, because it would have already happened.
I’m not trying to convince anyone that this potential deal is good or bad. Heck, I don’t even know how I feel about it right now. But there is a world where the benefits stretch beyond the parquet, and that’s something that could be extremely exciting as we wait for Tatum to finish his metamorphosis into an unquestionable superstar.