Celtics

Celtics' Jayson Tatum wants more than bounce-back season: 'I want to be one of the best'

Celtics' Jayson Tatum wants more than bounce-back season: 'I want to be one of the best'

LAS VEGAS — Celtics forward Jayson Tatum admitted he didn’t come close to meeting lofty expectations last season — both those he placed upon himself and those from the outside world — but he’s eager to assert himself as one of the NBA’s elite this season.

"I want to be one of the best,” Tatum said after Team USA’s practice Tuesday on the campus of UNLV. "There’s a lot of challenges that come with that. I’m excited.”

Tatum noted last week that he wanted to make a “bigger jump” this season, hinting that he didn’t play to his own expectations last year. Pressed on the topic Tuesday, Tatum admitted he came away wanting more, especially in a season that frustrated many on Boston’s roster.

"Man, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing from last season,” said Tatum. "All my stats were better, I did better, just not the jump that I expected — and the rest of the world expected. Which, I should have known with the team, the dynamics —  we had so many guys, so many talented people trying to win a championship and everybody had to sacrifice and step back a little bit. It didn’t work. 

"Last year is behind us. Everybody is kinda tired of talking about last season. We got a new team, new guys, so we’re just trying to move on, get ready for next season.”

Tatum, 21, believes a bigger leap starts with him carrying himself like an NBA superstar.

"Be more assertive, be more vocal than I was in my first two years,” said Tatum. "I was really the new guy so I didn’t say too much. But now I’ve earned the respect of the coaches and teammates and people around the league so just being able to talk a little bit more.”

Tatum’s 2018-19 season has been heavily dissected. While he owned the best on-court net rating on the Celtics, among high-volume players — higher even than All-Star Kyrie Irving and Al Horford — Tatum didn’t make the statistical leaps that many believed were coming after his loud 2018 postseason. Expectations might have been out of whack from the moment Tatum dunked on LeBron James in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals but Tatum still expected more from himself.

Teammate Jaylen Brown said that Tatum might be a little too hard on himself. But he understands Tatum’s desire to show that these young Celtics haven’t come close to their potentials.

"I think he had a solid year. He’s probably his toughest critic,” said Brown. "I didn’t think he had as bad a year as he probably thought he did. I think he still produced, I think he still got to show people what he can do. 

"I’m sure, in his eyes, he has a lot more he wants to show the world, as do I. So I can feel him in that regard. He had a solid year, it wasn’t as bad as people tried to make it out to be.”

If Tatum had a so-called down year last season, it hasn’t seemingly affected the way he’s viewed around the NBA. Tatum signed on with Michael Jordan’s “Jumpman” brand this summer and, during a promotional event in Paris, he might have greased the skids for Kemba Walker’s decision to join the Celtics.

Walker said Tuesday that he talked with Tatum for nearly an hour in Paris and it might have been the final nudge Walker needed to later commit to Boston. Walker has glowed about his new teammates, particularly the combo of Tatum and Brown, and the opportunity to play alongside a talented young duo.

"Those dudes are so talented, it’s unbelievable,” said Walker. "I competed against those guys, what, four times a year? Might catch a few games here or there. End of the day, you don’t see them every day. You know what I mean? For me, to be here and see those guys, and the way they compete and how much passion and love they have for the game, the intensity they have for the game, that’s special to me.”

Tatum noted how he and Brown have pushed each other throughout their young NBA careers and continue to do such. The duo played “King of the Court,” a rotating 1-on-1 game, with Team USA teammates after practice Monday and Tatum had some dominating stretches. He joked he’s got the upper hand on Brown in their career series against one another.

Both, overall, they’re both pulling on the same rope. Tatum and Brown are both eager to show that last year wasn’t a reflection of what they will someday be.

"This year, I look at it as a new canvas,” said Brown. “We’re artists, and it’s time to paint.”

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Enes Kanter shows big support for 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall in latest tweet

Enes Kanter shows big support for 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall in latest tweet

Enes Kanter seems to be a fan of Boston Celtics' 7-foot-7 rookie Tacko Fall.

Kanter posted a video to Twitter of Fall practicing at Auerbach Center, and he took time to praise Fall's efforts on Twitter.

The Celtics' signed Kanter to a two-year $10 million deal back in July, while Fall entered Boston's system as an undrafted free agent but he impressed in the Las Vegas Summer League. Kanter is the replacement for Al Horford, who left the Celtics over the summer for the Philadelphia 76ers.

The two should be a great duo for the Celtics, as both have the height and skill to be something special this coming season.

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

Entering training camp a year ago, expectations were sky-high for the Celtics. Most pundits considered them the team to beat in the East. Vegas fancied Boston as a 59-win team, the second-highest win total behind only Golden State. And a Finals matchup between those two teams was far from a pipe dream.

Fast forward a year and expectations have been tempered. The Celtics lost a pair of All-Stars this summer in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and, despite signing another in Kemba Walker, the team finds itself widely considered a Tier 2 team in the East behind projection darlings Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

So what happens this year? Do the Celtics go back to being the sort of overachievers that have defined Brad Stevens’ coaching career? Will a younger roster struggle to simply meet even the lowered expectations of this season?

To wrap up Week 1 of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our NBC Sports Boston panel to look into their crystal balls and predict not only Boston’s final win-loss record but how far they’d advance in the playoffs.

The  Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook projects Boston at 49.5 wins this season. The Bucks (58) and Sixers (55) top the Westgate projections and the next five teams all reside in the west. 

The Celtics went 49-33 last season, settling for the fourth seed in the East. They swept the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers in Round 1 but bowed to the top-seeded Bucks in five games in Round 2.

When you consider that Westgate’s four lowest win totals reside in the East (Knicks, Wizards, Cavaliers, Hornets) and seven East teams sit below 40 wins, it feels like the Celtics should reasonably win 50+ games despite the roster changes.

So we’ll put the Celtics at 52 wins and a spot in the East semifinals. That seeding would likely mean a second-round matchup jousting with either Giannis’ Bucks or Embiid’s Sixers and Boston’s frontcourt development might dictate just how competitive those series could be. Remember, too, Stevens tends to produce his best magic when you least expect it.

The irony, of course, is that the Celtics could win 49 games this season and get bounced in Round 2 again but if they develop chemistry and are more enjoyable to watch then last year’s gang, then Celtics fans will be far more OK with that script playing out a second time — well, so long as players make the sort of strides that suggest more is possible in the coming years.

Abby Chin: 50-32 Eastern Conference Finals

I think purely based on better chemistry and grit, this team will improve on last year’s win total. And, I’ll bank on some luck in the playoff bracket. Maybe with injuries, or regular season Al Horford, Philly and Milwaukee fall to the 2 and 3 seed so the Celtics could avoid them in the first couple rounds.

 

A. Sherrod Blakely: 50-32, East Finals

I'm gonna keep the cookies on the bottom shelf with this one. They are a better team (team not individuals) than they're going to get credit for, and they have a roster that's full of talent with a huge chip on their shoulders from the coach on down. This group will play harder, smarter and win a lot of games they probably shouldn't and by doing so, keep Celtics fans extremely happy all season.

Max Lederman: 51-31, lose in 2nd round

Before last season the Celtics have always overachieved under Brad Stevens. I expect a return to that with lowered expectations this season. The Celtics also had their worst record vs winning teams last year since Brad's 2nd season. They should put up a better fight this season.

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