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Building A dream roster of Celtics legends around Jayson Tatum

It’s the offseason, so that means fun ideas like imagining Jayson Tatum playing next to a team of Boston greats.

2022 NBA All-Star - NBA 75 Group Portrait Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

First off, happy offseason, everyone!

Celtics didn’t get over the hump this year, but honestly, I think we’re all enjoying a bit of a break from the heart-pounding, stress-inducing playoff basketball we saw from Boston this postseason.

As a part of that break, let’s do a fun activity. This all spawned from a conversation I was having with my dad about what is the best possible Celtics team you could build around Jayson Tatum. Once we got bored of normal NBA players, we thought, “what if we had time machine and could bring Celtics legends to the modern day?”

Well, it’s time to get to the results of that thrilling proposition. I have a few options per position, so let’s get into it.

Boston Celtics v Washington Bullets Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Point Guard: 1986-87 Dennis Johnson
Honorable mention: Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart

Point guard was honestly the most difficult position to choose because I still don’t think we’ve seen the best possible PG next to Tatum. It’s a bit of a mystery, but I wanted a guy who can pass, defend, move off ball, but most importantly, provide leadership and direction on the defensive end.

Dennis Johnson is a great pick for this spot. His defensive leadership and knack for making big plays would be great to help get this team out in transition. Plus, he knows all about ball movement and sharing the rock. We’re going to have a some big-time shooters on this team, so having a guy who knows how to play with hitters of that caliber is important.

Now, they weren’t shooting a lot of 3s in 1986, so we’re projecting a bit here, but I think modern day Dennis Johnson would be a better 3-point shooter. He was always a pretty good FT shooter and would have plenty of wide open opportunities. DJ would be the rock of this team. For honorable mentions, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart are a similar vein PGs to DJ. Rondo needs the ball a little more than I’d be comfortable with on this team and while I love Smart, we’ve already seen some of the issues that come with him and Tatum. DJ feels like a slightly improved version of Marcus.

Shooting Guard: 2010-11 Ray Allen
Honorable Mention: Sam Jones, Jaylen Brown

Just imagine a 44% 3-point shooting Ray Allen next to Jayson Tatum. Off-ball movement, timely steals, huge clutch shots, Ray Allen is the perfect guy to slot next to an increasingly-creative Tatum. Now, at this point, Ray Allen is 35, so his minutes load is going to have to be maintained a bit. I think having a good guard off the bench as a 6th or 7th man would help this team a lot. But, Ray is simply too good at all the things this team will need to be great to keep him out of it. He doens’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact and he’ll give enough effort on the defensive end to make up for missing a step. The Celtics made a Finals with this version of Ray Allen playing 36 minutes, but that might be the Doc Rivers effect over anything. Rays gets the starting spot, hopefully he doesn’t snake the team to go play for the Heat’s all-time team. Feel like they might have their SG spot locked up though, just a hunch.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Set Number: X4822

Sam Jones would also be a great fit next to Tatum. He’d get insane buckets on this team and would constantly be going up against the 3rd, maybe 4th best defender on the other team. Same thing goes for Jaylen Brown, hard not to include him with how much winning him and Tatum have already achieved.

Small Forward: 2022-23 Jayson Tatum

No need for an honorable mention here! We’ll stick with the current MVP-candidate version of Jayson Tatum. An elite two-way forward with an incredible handle for a guy of his size, he is the dream wing to build around for any team. His pull-up 3-point FG% definitely needs to get higher, but on a team like this, he may be matched up with lesser defenders which might boost his numbers even more.

As his playmaking skills continue to evolve, he’ll have interesting shot makers and play finishers all over the court for him to use. This team will make him better and help him see the floor even better. Plus, defensively, he’ll be a maestro on this team. He’ll probably be thrust into a more on-ball role on this team, but as we’ve seen before, that’s not an issue for him at all. This team in transition would be just terrifying. Tatum is our man and I can only imagine what the ‘23-24 version of him will look like.

Boston Celtics ... Photo by Steve Lipofsky /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Power Forward: 1984-85 Larry Bird
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett, Al Horford

I could’ve put Larry at either SF or PF to swap him with Tatum, but after conversing with some in-the-know people, we decided upon this version of Larry Bird. This version of Larry was still putting up huge numbers, almost 29 ppg with around 7 apg on the offensive end, but his rebounding numbers this season were huge — ten a game including almost 3 offensive boards. He’s going to be a 2-way menace with Tatum.

Think of the outlet passes and the break starters Bird would give this team to get them up the court. All of a sudden, you have Jayson Tatum flying down the court with DJ next to him waiting for a dump off and Ray Allen flaring out to the corner for 3. Plus, Bird gives us an instant bucket in the half-court if Tatum starts to slow down a bit.

One other fun thing that comes to mind would be the two-man game Bird and Tatum would run. They’d set screens for each other, play both sides of the PnR and pop out for 3 when their instincts deemed it necessary. There are a few version of Bird that would fit very well next to Tatum, but the intangibles give it to ‘84 Bird.

It’s a really tough call considered the Celtics have easily the best PF all-time list of any team. I’ll take the two elite defensive guys behind Bird. A modern day KG would probably end up shooting 3s at a pretty decent clip and his rim protection would be huge for this team. Same goes for Al Horford, we already know what he and Tatum can do together on both ends of the floor.

Jayson Tatum Tours Boston Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Center: 1959-60 Bill Russell
Honorable mention: Kevin Garnett, Bill Walton

This was easily the biggest debate when coming up with this starting lineup. We don’t need to wax poetic about Bill Russell’s accomplishments. It’s Bill Russell…BUT, how good we he fit into a modern day team next to Jayson Tatum? To me, I think he’d struggle a bit with the pace of play, but who cares, I’m getting the best rebounder and shot blocker possible next to Jayson Tatum.

He’s like Robert Williams but the best ever possible version of Robert Williams. His only true issue on this team is that he’s a pretty horrific FT shooter. The ‘59-60 season was his best season at 61%, so that could definitely be an issue late in games. We’ll get to the 6th man in a second, but he’ll do just fine spelling Russell when needed.

I have KG again as an honorable mention because I just can’t get over the idea of prime Garnett playing next to Tatum. Just too much dog on the court to even think about, what a blast that would’ve been. I also put Bill Walton down; I think his creative passing and timely scoring would be really helpful in this lineup to keep the ball moving.

NBA Eastern Conference Semi-finals: Washington Wizards Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

6th Man: 2017-18 Al Horford, 2016-17 Isaiah Thomas

I don’t usually love big men as a 6th man, but Horford is just too perfect an option. He can spell either Russell or Bird and any time of the game to give a different look, but he can also play next to both of them in multiple different lineups. His ability to stretch the floor and pass is perfect on a team like this and he would be deadly off the bench against 2nd units.

Speaking of deadly against 2nd units, Isaiah Thomas is a perfect backup guard for this team. Defensively, we have a ton of cover for him all over the floor and offensively, he’d be attacking mismatches and bad defenders all day long. Clutch shots, timely passes, Isaiah would light up the stat sheet on a team like this. If DJ was struggling or we wanted a more offensive look, IT is the guy.

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Five Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Coach: Brad Stevens

This one is laced with outrageous recency bias, but if I’m building a team around Jayson Tatum, I want the coach that knows how to get the most out of him. Stevens would turn this team into a defensive nightmare and with Tatum and the focal point offensively on the other end, the ATO plays would be just devastating. There are obviously a ton of great options at coach for Boston, but for a team with legends, they need someone who can match their basketball IQ and serve as an extra set of eyes late in games. Stevens would be excellent for a team like this and helps finish off a great roster.

To recap:
Point Guard: 1986-87 Dennis Johnson
Shooting Guard: 2010-11 Ray Allen
Small Forward: 2022-23 Jayson Tatum
Power Forward: 1984-85 Larry Bird
Center: 1959-60 Bill Russell
6th Man: 2017-18 Al Horford, 2016-17 Isaiah Thomas
Coach: Brad Stevens

It’s a killer team, don’t mean to pat myself on the back. Who would you keep and who would you replace? Let me know on Twitter at @sportstein.

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