Tale of the tape: There's motivation on Celtics PG Carsen Edwards' wrist

Tale of the tape: There's motivation on Celtics PG Carsen Edwards' wrist

A lot of NBA players scrawl tiny messages on the soles of their game sneakers. Jayson Tatum typically draws a heart and writes, “Deuce,” the nickname of his young son. Kyrie Irving used to write “Whiplash,” a reference to the movie, with some family nods on the opposite side of his shoes.

But Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards’ motivation isn’t as subtle. During his time at Vegas summer league, Edwards continued a college tradition of wrapping his right wrist with athletic tape and writing inspirational messages in black Sharpie.





The messages might not have been particularly noteworthy if Edwards hadn’t forced eyeballs on himself in Vegas. In Boston’s five summer games, Edwards averaged a team-best 19.4 points (6.4 points higher than the next closest teammate) over 23.4 minutes per game. That’s the highest scoring output of any Boston player at summer league since 2004.

On Sunday, the Celtics formally announced they’d signed the 21-year-old guard to his rookie pact. Given that Boston pounced on Edwards at No. 33 in last month’s draft, he wasn’t subject to the first-round scale. The Celtics could have offered him a minimum-salary contract that many second-round picks settle for but would have only been able to ink him for two seasons. Instead, Boston used a sliver of available cap space to sign Edwards to a four-year deal that includes three guaranteed seasons. Edwards gets paid a bit more like a late first-round pick (at least later in the contract) and the Celtics protect their investment for a player that could be a steal if he keeps scoring the way he did this summer.

All that attention left Celtics fans zooming in on the messages on his left wrist. The tape was a familiar presence during Purdue’s tournament run that saw Edwards put himself on the radar with a couple of 40+ point efforts, including against eventual champion Virginia.

The messages sometimes change but one seems ever-present. "Help Mama Out" is almost always on the top side and most visible. It’s a nod to Edwards’ mother, Carla Desmuke-Edwards, and all her efforts in helping Edwards along his basketball journey.

While Edwards doesn’t need any motivation to keep proving himself, the wrist memos are there to make sure he doesn’t take his foot off the gas.

"Just reminders,” Edwards said. "At this level, or even the college level, being motivated — I feel like you should be self-motivated at this point. But also just having those reminders, on why you do things, on why you play so hard. And everything like that. 

"To have that on my wrists and see it every time I’m on the floor is important.”

Edwards doesn’t need any reminders that little on his basketball journey has come easy. Edwards said that, right before he got to high school, he wasn’t much of a shooter. His father, James, implored him to work on his shot. Yes, the same kid who showed fearless Steph Curry-like range at summer league didn’t have a jump shot until roughly the mid-2000s. 

“Honestly, growing up, maybe until 7th or 8th grade, I really struggled with having a jump shot, which, honestly, it just wasn’t my thing. Shooting the ball wasn’t my thing,” said Edwards. "It was all just going to the basket. My dad just kind of explained to me how important it is to be able to score the ball at a high level, especially at my height, if I want to get to the next level. So he focused on getting me a jumper and making myself more difficult to guard. I give it to my dad.”

Edwards made the varsity team at Atascocita High School in Humble, Texas as a freshman but got assigned to junior varsity as a sophomore, something that still baffles him. Frustrated by the demotion, he angrily decided he’d simply focus on football — where he played slot receiver and running back — until his mother convinced him to stick it out on the basketball court.

Edwards landed at Purdue and after a breakout sophomore season, put his name in for draft consideration. He did the pre-draft circuit, which included a visit to Boston, where he says he had a lackluster workout. Eventually he decided to return to Purdue for his junior season and spearheaded the team's run to the Elite 8 before bowing out against Virginia.

Draft projections had Edwards as a late first- or early second-round pick but it was still a bit of a surprise to see him on the board when Boston picked at 33, after moving back in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. And there seemed to be an audible cheer from near Boston’s war room right before the Edwards pick came on TV. Co-owner Wyc Grousbeck emerged for a television interview beaming right as the pick played on ESPN's telecast.

Edwards will wear No. 29, a nod to his brother, Jai, who wears the same number as a defensive back at Tarleton State University. Edwards’ friends have given him some grief about the double digits but watching him drop shoulders into defenders to create space makes you wonder if the thick-legged Edwards could have played NFL cornerback if he had chosen that path.

The messages on his wrist remind him that he was supposed to end up in the NBA. And, if summer league is any indication, he’s not content to simply land an NBA gig. He’s eager to carve out his role, especially on a Celtics team that has a need for backup guard minutes with the departure of Terry Rozier.

So what can Celtics fans expect from him this season?

"Best way I can explain it: Just really giving everything I have. That’s all I know really,” said Edwards. "I love this game, I enjoy playing, I enjoy competing. Coming in, I just want to do what’s best to help this team win. I want to make an impact the best way possible but, for most part, doing what the coaches ask me. And just giving everything that I have, day in and day out, and competing.”


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Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Jayson Tatum be a championship team's best player in 2020?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Jayson Tatum be a championship team's best player in 2020?

Expectations are very high for the Boston Celtics with the NBA's restart taking place later this month at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

The Celtics have become a popular pick as a team that could make a deep run in the 2020 NBA playoffs, and potentially reach the NBA Finals.

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NBA legend and six-time champion Scottie Pippen said earlier this week on ESPN's "The Jump" that Celtics star Jayson Tatum already is capable of being the best player on a championship-caliber team. Tatum is in the midst of a breakout year, and he's leading the team in scoring at 23.6 points per game. The 22-year-old forward is making a tremendous impact on defense, too, which helps illustrate the exciting two-way skill set he's consistently built on since entering the league in 2017-18.

What do our experts think of Pippen's claim? NBC Sports Boston's Celtics insiders A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg, along with Kyle Draper, discussed this topic on the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast.

"I think he will be. I don't think he's that dude right now. Not right now," Blakely said. "I just think there are too many obstacles in his way that I think will keep him from being that guy right now.

Which obstacles?

"Let's see, some guy named LeBron James and Anthony Davis. There's this guy in MIlwaukee who I hear is pretty good. There's a couple guys in Philadelpia who -- they could make things a little complicated as well," Blakely said. "Tatum is going to be that guy. I'm not seeing he won't be that guy. I think he will. I just don't think he's that guy right now."

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Tatum be a title team's best player? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Forsberg had a different take.

"The last time I saw Jayson Tatum, he was that guy," Forsberg said. "Look, is it fair to think he'll pick up on quite that level, I don't know. But I think a lot of people forgot Kemba Walker was hurt with the way Tatum played over the final two months. I think it is asking a lot of him to get back to that level -- I don't think he's going to average 30 points per game and shoot 50 percent from 3-point land. And yet I do think if the Celtics are going to go anywhere, it does rely on Jayson Tatum being the best player. Kemba has to be very good, but Tatum has to be your best guy, and bring his two-way impact if (the Celtics) are going to reach those lofty goals."

Tatum proved he could be the leading player on a very good team during his rookie season when he nearly led the Celtics to an upset win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. He's a better player now than he was in 2018, but the East as a whole also is a lot stronger today.

It's probably a little too early to definitively say Tatum is already capable of being the best player on a championship contender, but if he plays anywhere close to the level we saw from him in February and early March, it wouldn't be surprising if the young star led Boston on a deep playoff run later this summer.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast or watch it on YouTube below.

Marcus Smart has extremely high praise for Celtics' Jayson Tatum ahead of NBA restart

Marcus Smart has extremely high praise for Celtics' Jayson Tatum ahead of NBA restart

How high is Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum's ceiling? One of his teammates thinks he has the potential to be one of the all-time greats.

Marcus Smart has watched Tatum grow quite a bit since his rookie season in 2017-18, and he's optimistic that the young star has an incredibly bright future ahead of him in the NBA.

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Smart told reporters Tuesday in a video conference call that he really knew Tatum was going to be something special during the Celtics' improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2018.

"I would probably say the playoffs in his rookie year. Just the impact he had, just the confidence he played with, and the mindset that he played with, you could definitely see that this guy was going to be special," Smart said. "He was 20 or 21 at the time. It's tremendous to see his progression, aiming for the stars and shooting for the moon, literally, that's him. The things he's capable of on the offensive end. “I think (one thing that's) a little under-talked about is his defensive end. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s actually sitting down and guarding guys, let alone coming down on the offensive end and doing what he’s doing.”

"I just think that he's on the right track to becoming, like I said, if not the best, one of the best players to ever do this in this game."

It's not every day that a player receives this kind of praise, and while Tatum still has a very, very long way to go before he can be mentioned alongside the game's greatest players, it's easy to see why people are so excited about what lies ahead for him.

Tatum has shown fantastic improvement this season, highlighted by his first All-Star Game appearance and earning Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February. He leads the Celtics in scoring with 23.6 points per game, and he's also on pace to set career highs in rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game and more. 

If the Celtics are going to make a deep run and potentially reach the 2020 NBA Finals -- and some experts think they're capable of winning the East -- Tatum will need to take his game to an even higher level on the league's brightest stage. Based on what we've seen so far from Tatum during the 2019-20 season, there are reasons to be confident he's capable of meeting that challenge.