A pre-draft visit to Phoenix left Jayson Tatum smitten with the idea of potentially playing for the Suns and it might have been a phone call from his college coach that ensured he’d eventually end up in green instead of orange.
During an appearance on the “All the Smoke” podcast released Monday, Tatum detailed how he was initially reluctant about the idea of playing for a talented Boston team after learning the Celtics had moved back to the No. 3 spot in the 2017 draft.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski helped coax him to visit the Celtics, who owned the No. 4 pick.
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"So I get back to my hotel [in Phoenix], I’m about to fly back home for like two days before I go to New York [for the draft] and my agent called me and he’s like, ‘Danny Ainge called and said they’re going to trade their [No. 1] pick, they’re going to go to 3 and they want you to come to Boston the next day to work out,’” recalled Tatum. "I’m like, ‘No, I don’t want to go to Boston. I like it out here in Phoenix. 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 was] like, ‘Brad Stevens is a great young coach and they have a great history.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not trying to hear that. I want to go to Phoenix.’
"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 liked the potential of partnering with Devin Booker on a young Phoenix team. A Celtics squad that finished the 2016-17 season atop the East made it a little more difficult to see a path towards an immediate impact.
“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, Smart, [Jaylen Brown], Jae Crowder,” said Tatum. "I was like, ‘Man, I’m not going to play. I’m trying to get buckets.’ Everything worked out. It was the best decision, so it worked out.”
Tatum, of course, nearly led the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his rookie season. He blossomed into an All-Star this year. He admits now it was the right spot for him and said his year at Duke prepared him well for what awaited 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.”
What might have happened if Tatum refused to visit Boston?
The Celtics had seen Tatum work out in Los Angeles and might not have been deterred, even if Tatum tried to power play his way to Phoenix. Alas, Coach K made it a moot point with his phone call.
So what exactly was it about Phoenix that left Tatum so enthralled anyhow?
“This is a week before the draft, I went to Phoenix just to meet with Earl Watson and talk to the GM and see the facility,” said Tatum. "I didn’t work out, I just went to go meet with everybody. I went to dinner with Earl, I remember he picked me up, he had a white [Mercedes-Benz] G-[Class] wagon, he drove me around, he showed me all the houses where the players live at. I called my mom, I’m like, ‘Yo, I think I want to go to Phoenix.’ Earl Watson was like, ‘You come to Phoenix, you and D-Book, two light-skinned killers, I’m going to let y’all rock out.’ I’m sitting in the car I’m like, ‘Man this sounds good. Like, I think I want to come here.’”