Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen: Celtics' Jayson Tatum capable of being best player on an NBA champion

Scottie Pippen: Celtics' Jayson Tatum capable of being best player on an NBA champion

Jayson Tatum has received plenty of praise during the 2019-20 NBA season for raising his game to an All-Star level, and one NBA legend believes the Boston Celtics forward is capable of taking his talents even higher.

The Boston Celtics will enter the league's 22-team restart at Walt Disney World Resort later this month as one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. ESPN's Jalen Rose was among the first national voices after the restart format was announced to predict the Celtics were capable of going on a deep playoff run. He even picked the C's to win the conference and reach the 2020 NBA Finals.

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For the Celtics to make the Finals and contend for the franchise's 18th championship, Tatum likely will have to carry the team as its best player and go-to scorer. Chicago Bulls legend and current ESPN NBA analyst Scottie Pippen thinks Tatum is ready to take on that challenge.

Here's what Pippen said on ESPN's "The Jump".

Rachel Nichols: "Do you think Jayson Tatum is already, now, capable of carrying that best player on a championship team title?"

Pippen: "Rachel, I really do. I think this has been a breakout season for Tatum. He started out this season sort of on a mission to separate himself from the other players who've grown and developed, as well as really showing some leadership by becoming an All-Star this season. His scoring was really starting to peak right there (before the season was paused) -- he again separated himself a little bit from the other players to show he was going to be the go-to guy, the offensive leader for that team. I think if this team is to make a run, it has to rely on Tatum's ability to carry them offensively, and I feel like he's totally ready."

It's impressive when a six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer gives you this kind of praise. It's deserved, too.

Tatum was going to toe-to-toe with some of the league's best players and putting up crazy stats. particularly during his dominant month of February. One of the games that stands out is the Celtics' thrilling double-overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers right before the All-Star break. Tatum scored 39 points and outdueled reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

The 22-year-old forward has shown he's capable of being the best player on a title contender, but he won't have to do it alone. The Celtics are the only team with three players (Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker) averaging 20-plus points per game, and Gordon Hayward isn't far behind at 17.3 points per game. Boston has great scoring depth, and with Tatum and Walker able to create their shot in any situation during crunch time, C's head coach Brad Stevens has plenty of options late in games when his team needs a bucket.

Celtics can thank Michael Jordan for allowing them to draft Paul Pierce

Celtics can thank Michael Jordan for allowing them to draft Paul Pierce

After a month of watching "The Last Dance," you know all the things Michael Jordan did for the Chicago Bulls.

But he also gave the Celtics a huge, unintentional assist.

Let’s say it another way: Thanks to Michael Jordan, the Celtics had the opportunity to enjoy 15 seasons of Paul Pierce.

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In June 1997, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was on the verge of completing a deal with the Celtics’ Rick Pitino. I was covering the Celtics at the time for the Boston Globe and my colleague, Peter May, had the story ready to go. The Bulls would get the third and sixth picks in the draft along with a player (probably Eric Williams), and the Celtics would receive Scottie Pippen and Luc Longley.

What does that have to do with Pierce, who was still at Kansas? Hold on. We’re getting there.

The trade actually would have been good for what both Krause and Pitino wanted at the time. Krause, as the series explained so well, was looking ahead to a rebuild. He planned to select Tracy McGrady and Ron Mercer with those picks, and he would have gotten them. Pitino wanted to take away the sting of losing the draft lottery — and Tim Duncan — and was desperate to make the playoffs in his first year.

With Pippen and Longley, Pitino would have gotten his wish of a 45- to 47-win team, if not better.

The presence of those two would have strengthened the roster in other ways, too. There wouldn’t have been Pitino’s disastrous panic signing of Travis Knight. You can’t make this stuff up: Because Pitino didn’t know the salary cap — no joke — he didn’t realize that bringing in Knight forced him to get rid of Rick Fox, which he didn’t want to do.

So take away that error and you still have Fox as a valuable starter/role player here instead of an eventual champion/actor in Los Angeles.

Jordan shut it all down. 

He’d already promised to retire if the Bulls didn’t bring back Phil Jackson (they did), and now he was raging about the potential departure of the versatile Pippen. The Bulls went on to win their sixth title and the Celtics, with 36 wins, dropped into the lottery. They got the 10th pick and smartly and happily took Pierce.

(A what-if for another day is imagining who the Celtics would be if Pitino had gotten his preferred player in that draft, Dirk Nowitzki.)

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Looking up at the Garden rafters now, and looking through the Celtics’ record books, there’s a good lesson on patience somewhere in there. Pierce is either ranked first, second or third in at least a dozen categories in franchise history. He helped break a generational championship drought and picked up a Finals MVP along the way.

As for Pippen, his trade here would have been received well in ’97 because Pitino got the benefit of the doubt on everything he did then. Clearly, I feel some kind of way about it; don’t get me started.

After the Bulls’ Last Dance, it was a last dance of sorts for Pippen as well. He was never an All Star after ’98, and Pierce was better than Pippen by his second year in the league.

If the unfolding of Pierce’s story provides a lesson on patience, one of my small-print takeaways from "The Last Dance" is that it shows the flaws of arrogance. It served Jordan well on the court, and I still haven’t seen a better player, stylist, and international phenomenon. But with all those years he spent watching Krause, and making fun of him, he missed an opportunity to learn some team-building techniques from him.

Krause had one of the best 10-year runs of general managing in the history of the sport, highlighted by his discovery of Phil Jackson, drafting of Pippen, and trade for Dennis Rodman. A talented team builder, Jordan is not.

But I’m nitpicking. Jordan was clutch in the front-office move that matters to us. He shut down a trade and Pierce wound up here because of it.

Thanks, Mike.

Why Robert Parish prefers '86 Celtics over '97 Bulls

Why Robert Parish prefers '86 Celtics over '97 Bulls

The 1996-97 Chicago Bulls are regarded as one of the best teams in history. After going 72-10 the previous season and winning a title, the Bulls won 69 games and lose just 13 on their way to another title. They beat the Jazz in six games in the NBA Finals to earn their fifth title in seven years.

But where does that Bulls team rank in relation to some other all-time great squads? According to one player that was a member of the team, it's not quite as good as one of the Boston Celtics squad of the 1980s.

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In a recent appearance on Barstool Radio on Sirius XM, former Celtics big-man Robert Parish, who was a part of both the 1986 Celtics and the 1997 Bulls, was asked which team he thought would win head-to-head in a seven-game series. And he didn't hesitate before giving his answer.

"The Celtics," Parish said.  "For good reason, we had a better bench.  I think that would have been the difference.  Our bench was stronger.  After Toni [Kukoc], the rest of those guys, you know, just – I’m trying to be polite here – complementary players."

Parish forgot to mention Steve Kerr, who averaged 8.1 points per game off the bench for the Bulls, but nonetheless, his point rings true. The Celtics did have better depth, with Bill Walton, Jerry Sichting, and Scott Wedman giving the C's plenty of production as a three-man bench unit. The trio combined to average 22.1 bench points per game while Walton helped clean up the glass, as he was fourth on the team with 6.8 boards per game.

The other important note is that the Bulls' starting lineup wasn't quite as strong. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were elite and Dennis Rodman was still a top-tier rebounder. But the other two primary starters, Luc Longley and Ron Harper, were just complementary players. So, perhaps that's what's skewing Parish in favor of the Celtics.

Parish himself didn't play much in in the 1996-97 season. The then-43-year-old played in 43 regular season games, averaging 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. In the playoffs, he played in just two games.

This is certainly an interesting debate in theory, but Parish seems to be most qualified to give an answer given that he played for both squads. So, we'll take his word for it on the Celtics being the better team.