BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics famously traded back in the 2017 NBA Draft, stealing Jayson Tatum with the No. 3 pick in the process. But it almost didn’t happen, because at first, Tatum wasn’t too thrilled at the possibility of playing in Boston.
Luckily, Coach K stepped in and talked some sense into his one-year star at Duke. The rest is history in the making.
Appearing on Showtime’s All The Smoke podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, Tatum revealed that he wanted to be drafted by the Phoenix Suns and not the Celtics during the pre-draft process. After visiting with Phoenix and then-head coach Earl Watson, Tatum was enamored with the thought of playing with budding star Devin Booker on the Suns.
When Danny Ainge traded the first overall pick to Philadelphia, it became clear that the Celtics were all-in on drafting Tatum with the third overall pick. Tatum’s agent called to inform him that the Celtics wanted a workout, but Tatum was hesitant.
“I’m like, ‘No, I don’t want to go to Boston. I like it out here in Phoenix,” Tatum recalled. “It’s cool. The weather is nice. I get a big house, I get a pool. My mom is going to be out here.”
Tatum’s agent tried to sell him on Brad Stevens as a great young coach, plus the illustrious history of the Boston Celtics. But it wasn’t until Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski stepped in that Tatum opened up to the idea of playing for the Celtics.
“I’m like, ‘I’m not trying to hear that. I want to go to Phoenix,'” said Tatum. “My agent was like, ‘Just think about it.’ So we hang up, I’m like, ‘I’m not going to this workout right now. I’m cool.’ But then Coach K called me right after my agent did and he was like, ‘Jayson, the Celtics called, they want you to come work out. I think Brad Stevens is a great coach and it’s a great place to be. You’ll learn a lot.’ So I’m like, ‘Ugh, all right. I’ll go.'”
Tatum blew the Celtics away in his pre-draft workout, selling Ainge on using the No. 3 pick on the young forward. Tatum was initially hesitant of Boston at first because he was worried that he wouldn’t get much playing time on a Celtics team that had just finished as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“There was a part of me that didn’t want to go to Boston because they just were the No. 1 team in the East. They had Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, [Marcus] Smart, [Jaylen Brown], Jae Crowder,” he explained. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m not going to play. I’m trying to get buckets.'”
Quite a lot happened from the time the Celtics drafted Tatum and the start of his rookie season. The team signed Gordon Hayward in free agency, and then swung a blockbuster trade that sent Thomas and Crowder to Cleveland and brought Kyrie Irving to Boston. Tatum was in the Boston starting lineup on opening night in place of the injured Marcus Morris, a spot he never relinquished after Hayward broke his ankle five minutes into the season.
When it was all said and done, Tatum is happy he ended up in Boston.
“It worked out really well. I’ve really enjoyed being in Boston so far,” said Tatum. “Playing in the Garden is like no other place. The fans are amazing. Just looking up at the 17 championships that we have and all the great players that come before me. It’s crazy.”
In less than three seasons, Tatum has become the face of Celtics basketball. His star has risen to new heights this season, with the forward putting up a career-high 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, earning him his first All-Star appearance. His offensive game has exploded, with 14 games of 30 points or more during the 2019-20 season.
And if Boston fans are worried about Tatum eventually leaving the Celtics, he had another strong voice in his corner to fill him in with some truth: Celtics legend Paul Pierce.
“Just being able to talk to him and him giving me little insights and words of encouragement go a long way,” Tatum said of Pierce. “Sometimes older players talk down on the new generation or stuff like that. It’s a good feeling when somebody like Paul Pierce welcomes you and tells you that you can be the next Celtic great.”