Where Jayson Tatum stands in quest to become an NBA 'superstar'

Where Jayson Tatum stands in quest to become an NBA 'superstar'

BOSTON — Jayson Tatum had a pretty good idea his jersey was popular even before the NBA confirmed it last week. A friend was in New Zealand recently and sent Tatum videos that showed a couple Kiwis walking around in Tatum’s No. 0 jersey.

When the Celtics are on the road, Tatum admits he often scans the crowd to see if he can find any of his shirts. Even as his NBA star rises, Tatum went so far as to call it his, “favorite thing to do,” and admits it’s an incredibly rewarding feeling to see his jersey in rival arenas.

Last week, the NBA unveiled its top-selling merchandise for the first half of the 2019-20 season. Tatum landed at No. 4, trailing only LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Stephen Curry. That’s a trio with six NBA titles, seven MVP awards, and 24 All-Star appearances.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

But it’s the players that Tatum appeared ahead of that really floored him. James Harden? Kawhi Leonard?! Kevin Durant!?!?

"All the guys on that list, they’re 'superstars,' or looked at as stars,” said Tatum. "It’s great company to be in. I guess the fans like me.”

Tatum marveled that, of the roughly 500 players now on NBA rosters, fans are willing to plunk their money down for his jersey. His shirt is a big reason the Celtics ranked No. 2 in team sales, trailing only the Los Angeles Lakers, who visit TD Garden on Monday night.

We found it interesting that Tatum didn’t lump himself in the “star” category alongside the other 14 individual players that grace the list. Does he see himself as a "superstar?"

"That’s what I’m working towards,” said Tatum. “Obviously, those guys have accomplished a lot in the league and they deserve to be called superstars. I still haven't even made the All-Star game yet. Just taking it step by step, but it is something that I’m actively trying to get towards.”

Click here to listen and subscribe to the Celtics Talk Podcast

There is almost no denying that Tatum will soon check all the necessary boxes to assume the title of star. An important tick could come soon when All-Star reserves are announced. Even as Boston navigates a bit of a midseason swoon, Tatum has been one of the most impactful players on the roster and seems likely to join Kemba Walker (14th on that jersey sales list) in Chicago next month.

Still over a month shy of his 22nd birthday, Tatum has crammed an awful lot into his young NBA career. After an All-Rookie season, he nearly willed the shorthanded Celtics to the NBA Finals. His Game 7 dunk on James will be a career highlight no matter what he accomplishes. Tatum produced his first 40-point night of his career last week but is already downplaying the accomplishment.

"When I have big games, I try not to get too excited because, I say it all the time, the guys I looked up to, they do it often,” said Tatum. "I’m trying to get to that point where, when I do have a big night, it’s kinda like another night.”

Yes, that consistency is what separates borderline stars from the sure things. Tatum knows that a 40-point night against the New Orleans Pelicans doesn’t mean as much if he labors through 4-of-13 shooting against the Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia 76ers a couple days before it.

"I feel like everybody goes through it. Especially the guys that are the best and are kinda looked at that way when they first came into the league,” said Tatum, whom Boston nabbed at No. 3 in the 2017 NBA Draft after trading down from the top overall pick. "They expect more out of me and I expect a lot out of myself.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has often marveled at what both Tatum and fellow partner in (juvenile) crime Jaylen Brown have accomplished early in their NBA careers. Whenever the duo faces criticism for their inconsistencies, Stevens suggests reporters compare their body of work to other stars at the same age.

Stevens doesn’t put a lot of thought into jersey sales — his teenage son, Brady, has moved out of the jersey phase — but the coach understands why others would lean towards Tatum.

“It makes sense in this day and age with all of the movement: Buy a really good young player’s jersey,” said a smiling Stevens.

Yes, buying a Celtics jersey has been a dicey proposition in recent years. Even Tatum hasn’t been absolved from trade whispers (back when Lakers big man Anthony Davis was the object of Danny Ainge’s desire). Now it feels like Tatum is the key to whatever Boston accomplishes moving forward.

This summer, Tatum will be eligible — and likely receive — a maximum-salary extension of his rookie deal. It will lock Tatum and Brown in as the foundation of the team moving forward. But even while more established stars like Walker and Gordon Hayward are on the roster, what this team accomplishes likely hinges on what Tatum becomes.

In order to compete for a title, a team has to have an MVP-caliber player as its centerpiece. The current Celtics have a bunch of 1A-type players but their championship hopes strengthen if Tatum eventually ascends to the clear-cut best player on the team.

There’s strides to be made on the court. His ball-handling needs to improve so he can more consistently attack the basket, he needs to be better at finishing, his shooting percentages down this season. But the talent is obvious and it seems like only a matter of time before he puts it all together. The potential to be Boston’s No. 1 is there if he’s willing to work for it.

Everything else is lining up for him. The All-Star label is coming, and so is the contract. This past summer, Tatum signed with Jordan Brand, becoming one of the young faces of the popular shoe brand. Tatum’s also well-regarded around the league, as evidenced by how Walker sought him out for advice before joining the Celtics.

All signs point to Tatum as a superstar. Now he’s just got to prove it on the court, especially in those matchups where the surefire stars are on the other side of the court.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Monday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

MLB rumors: Latest Red Sox asking price for a Mookie Betts trade revealed

MLB rumors: Latest Red Sox asking price for a Mookie Betts trade revealed

Mookie Betts' future with the Boston Red Sox beyond 2020 remains uncertain, and if another team wants to make a trade for the former American League MVP, it's going to cost quite a bit.

The Red Sox are in an interesting spot with Betts. He's a five-tool player with incredible offensive talents and plays Gold Glove-level defense in the outfield. However, if it looks like he's going to test free agency after next season, exploring a trade makes sense. Allowing a player of Betts' caliber to leave as an unrestricted free agent and get nothing of value in return would be a huge setback for the Red Sox.

The asking price the Red Sox currently have for Betts doesn't just involve getting quality talent in return, it also includes a team taking starting pitcher David Price's contract, according to ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required).

Boston has indicated to other teams, according to sources, that any team that lands Betts will also have to take David Price (or Nathan Eovaldi presumably), with either most or all of the money owed to Price, $96 million. 

Olney also added Boston is "asking for two high-end prospects to front the deal."

It makes sense for Boston to find a taker for Price's contract. Price is still a quality pitcher, but he's no longer a $30-plus million type of starter, and getting rid of his salary would allow the Sox to invest in younger talent. He's also started more than 22 games just once over the last three years, which isn't the most ideal trend for a 34-year-old pitcher who's played more than 10 major league seasons.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said in a press conference Wednesday that Betts being on the Opening Day roster has "really been my expectation all along.” Boston should do everything it can to extend Betts' contract and keep him in Boston for a long time. He's a top-five position player in baseball, and he's finished in the top eight of AL MVP voting each of the last four years. The 27-year-old superstar also owns four Gold Glove awards and three Silver Slugger awards.

Betts' future doesn't need to be decided right now, though. The trade deadline isn't until July 31. The priority for Boston is finding a new manager to replace Alex Cora. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month.

J.D. Martinez: Red Sox will be exonerated by MLB investigation

Celtics vs. Lakers odds: Best NBA picks for LeBron James' return to Boston

Celtics vs. Lakers odds: Best NBA picks for LeBron James' return to Boston

The Boston Celtics are in a serious funk, and they'll need to upset one of the NBA's best teams to snap out of it.

The Celtics have lost three straight games and six of their last eight, most recently falling 123-119 to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.

The Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, boast the best record in the Western Conference (34-8) and have won 10 of their last 11 despite being without Anthony Davis for their last five contests.

Injuries could sway this one either way -- Davis and Rajon Rondo are questionable for L.A., while Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown are questionable for Boston -- but the C's still face a tall task in shutting down LeBron James at TD Garden on Monday night.

Here are our betting predictions for Celtics-Lakers, as well as two NBA locks against the spread.

(All odds provided by WestGate Superbook.)

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET

Moneyline: The Lakers have lost just three games on the road all season, and you know James will relish the chance to beat the Celtics in Boston. Even without Davis, I like the Lakers (-130) winning this one outright.

Point Spread: The Celtics will have some pride and keep this one close. Having Brown and Tatum in the same lineup also would jolt this struggling offense. But Boston's issue of late has been its defense, and L.A.'s offense is rolling right now. The Lakers (-2) cover this thin spread.

Point Total: The Celtics have allowed 116 points or more in three straight games. The Lakers have scored more than 116 points in six straight games. That's all the evidence I need to take the OVER on a 223.5 point total.

Darren's record picking the Celtics' moneyline, point spread and point total: 57-32-1 (63.3% success rate)

NBA Locks of the Night

Denver Nuggets (+2.5) at Minnesota Timberwolves: You could argue this is a scheduled loss for Denver, which just played Sunday night and doesn't have Jamal Murray. But the Timberwolves have lost five in a row and are the vastly inferior team.

Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers (-6.5): The Warriors should have Draymond Green back and just beat the Orlando Magic by 14. They've also lost seven straight on the road and are primed for a let-down game.

Darren's record picking NBA locks against the spread: 31-28-1 (51.7% success rate)

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Monday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.