Jayson Tatum admitted he’s not thrilled about the idea of entering the NBA’s Orlando bubble but said he is excited about a couple things: haircuts and the chance to compete for a title.
After Tatum eloquently detailed his concerns, most notably leaving his family, including his 2 ½-year-old son affectionately nicknamed Deuce, Tatum noted that being back around his Celtics teammates — and the opportunity the restart presents — has motivated him for what’s ahead.
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"That’s one thing I am excited about, just seeing everybody again. Guys got new haircuts, guys look different,” said Tatum, who grew out both his hair and beard during the break. "So just being able to see guys again, see them back in the gym, knowing that we’re going to be able to go out there and compete with each other again, that makes it worth it.
"I did miss those guys, good group to be around and enjoy seeing and competing with. So I think that’s what I’m excited for, just being around those guys again and sharing the floor.”
Tatum figures the restart puts a lot of teams on even footing and said the Celtics will enter the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with title aspirations.
“If we’re going to go down there, we might as well try to win a championship,” said Tatum. "That’s our goal and our focus. Obviously, everybody is in the same boat, nobody has played with each other around the league, so I think we’re all kinda starting at like the same level, ground zero. And whoever can normalize it the quickest and not make excuses, and just go out there and play basketball, I think that could be the most successful team.
"We're going down there and trying to win."
Much of Boston’s postseason success could hinge on whether Tatum can recapture the momentum he had before the NBA season paused. During a 17-game stretch starting with his All-Star announcement on January 30, Tatum averaged 28.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks over 36.3 minutes per game. He shot 47.7 percent from the field overall and 45.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc.
On Monday, Bulls legend Scottie Pippen proclaimed on ESPN’s “The Jump” that Tatum could be ready to emerge as the best player on a title-caliber team. Asked about that possibility, and whether he can pick up where he left off, Tatum said he won’t let outside expectations weigh on him.
"I think it’s just reps, just getting back in the gym, getting back in the flow of things,” said Tatum. “We’re all kind of in the same position, we took so much time off and nobody was really playing basketball for a long time, so just trying to knock the rust off and get back in shape. Just see the ball go in the hole and just getting the feel for the game back.
"I don’t put any pressure from what other people say. I’ve always admitted that, no matter how well people think I played or how bad people think I played or their expectations, I hear it [but] I don’t pay too much attention to it. I know what I expect of myself in good times and in bad, so I don’t let it bother me or affect me or get excited about it one way or another.”