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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Celtics remain cautious with timetable for Kemba Walker's return

Celtics remain cautious with timetable for Kemba Walker's return

BOSTON -- Kemba Watch will continue for at least one more game with the four-time All-Star ruled out for the fifth consecutive game because of left knee soreness when the Celtics host the Houston Rockets on Saturday night. 

For years, Walker has been one of the most durable players in the NBA.

So to see him sidelined for multiple games is a bit jarring. 

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And while Celtics coach Brad Stevens offered a scenario that could have Walker back on the floor next week in Cleveland on Tuesday, the need for Boston to proceed cautiously when it comes to Walker’s health and return can not be overstated. 

The last thing the Celtics want or need is Walker hobbling into the playoffs at less than full strength; or even worse, unable to play, akin to what happened with Kevin Garnett in 2009 when he missed the final 25 games of the regular season and all of the playoffs, which ended for the Celtics with a second-round loss to Orlando. 

Being out with injury for an extended period of time is foreign terrain for Walker, who in his nine NBA seasons has had only one where he missed as many games as this season. 

That was in 2014-15 when he missed 20 games and had surgery to repair a torn meniscus to his left knee — the same knee that has him out now. 

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The Celtics have run a battery of tests of the injury to try and make sure that when he does return, this won’t be something that lingers.

Boston has played well without Walker (9-3), but don’t get it twisted. 

The Celtics know for them to have the kind of playoff run that they are hoping, Walker has to be at or close to full strength. 

For Walker, being part of a team that’s built beyond just his play, to fight for a second or third seed in the East and not just a spot in the playoffs, makes missing games a little easier to handle.

“I still don’t like it; no competitor would like missing games,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston. “I want to be out there with my brothers. But it’s good to know that if I can’t go, they can still play well, they can still win games.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Celtics' Robert Williams cleared to return; Kemba Walker won't play vs. Rockets

Celtics' Robert Williams cleared to return; Kemba Walker won't play vs. Rockets

The Boston Celtics' frontcourt depth is about to improve.

Second-year center Robert Williams finally has been cleared to play, C's coach Brad Stevens told reporters Friday. Stevens noted Williams' minutes will be "very limited" to start.

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Williams has not played since Dec. 6 because of a left hip injury. His return to the lineup, which could come as soon as Saturday night versus the Houston Rockets at TD Garden, should give the Celtics valuable interior defense, another player to throw in pick-and-rolls, and additional rebounding. Williams also is the team's most athletic big man.

One player who won't return to game action Saturday is point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker was ruled out late Friday afternoon. He hasn't played since the 2020 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 16. He's missed four consecutive games with left knee soreness. Marcus Smart has started in his place. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.