NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. — After hearing his name invoked as someone who might interest the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jayson Tatum initially feared he might be included in the trade package the Boston Celtics put together Tuesday to land Kyrie Irving.
Instead, the No. 3 pick in June’s draft expressed excitement in knowing he’ll have a fellow Duke product beside him in Boston during his rookie season.
“I was watching [the trade news] on TV and I saw breaking news come across, so it was just as much of a shock to me as all the other fans,” said Tatum, who only this week moved to Massachusetts to begin offseason workouts in advance of training camp next month.
“I was just as surprised as everyone else [about the deal]. I saw my name come up and I didn’t know if I was going to get traded. … It’s all new to me. I haven’t played an NBA game yet; I just came from college. I don’t know how to handle all the trade talks. I was just like, ‘Wow,’ [when I] saw my name come up.”
After receiving assurance he was staying in Boston, Tatum said he got a text from Irving expressing excitement about teaming up next season. Earlier this month, Tatum and Irving, who share an agent, traveled to the Bahamas for a vacation. Even as reports began circulating that the Cavaliers might desire a young talent like Tatum in return for Irving, the two never discussed the possibility of a deal.
Tatum called Irving a “great player” and a “superstar in this league” but admitted that, as a rookie, he is uncertain if Irving is what the Celtics need to take the next step forward in their quest to be a legitimate title contender. But he raved about the possibility.
“I’m pretty sure it will be a lot of fun,” Tatum said. “[Irving is] a tremendous player. A superstar in this league.”
The Celtics have just four returning players from last year’s team (Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier) and coach Brad Stevens must integrate new faces like Tatum, Irving and Gordon Hayward while hoping to push Cleveland after bowing to the Cavaliers in five games during last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
Tatum has to feel confident in his place on Boston’s roster. In advance of the June draft, the Celtics traded the No. 1 pick — acquired via pick swap with the Nets — to Philadelphia. The 76ers selected Markelle Fultz while Boston took Tatum at No. 3 and picked up a future first-round pick in the process.
If Cleveland desired Tatum in this deal, Ainge was evidently more willing to include the Nets’ pick instead. With growing hype about next year’s draft class, that speaks volumes about what the Celtics believe Tatum can be in the future.
Tatum showed an NBA-ready offensive game at summer leagues in Utah and Las Vegas but still needs to bulk up to be able to guard NBA wings. Stevens has praised Tatum’s defensive potential and believes he can be a solid defender at this level.
All of Boston’s wheeling and dealing, especially the departure of wings like Avery Bradley and Crowder, could create an immediate opportunity for Tatum, who will have a chance to compete for minutes from the start of camp.