Jayson Tatum almost skipped pre-draft workout in Boston because he liked Phoenix

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Jayson Tatum is part of one of the most dynamic young combinations in the league, paired with Jaylen Brown in Boston on one of the East’s best teams.

However, before the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum wanted to go to Phoenix and then Suns coach Earl Watson really wanted Tatum to pair with Devin Booker — what would have been a dynamic combo in the West.

Tatum went on the All the Smoke podcast this week and said he wanted to play for the Suns.

“I called my fam, my mom, I’m like, ‘Yo, I think I want to go to Phoenix.’ Earl Watson, he’s like, ‘You come to Phoenix, you and D-Book, two light-skinned killers, I’ mma let y’all rock out.’ I’m sitting in the car, like, ‘This sounds good! I think I want to come here.'”

The feeling was mutual. The Suns were drafting No. 4 that year and Watson wanted Tatum, even if that meant trading up to get him, as Watson told Jay King of The Athletic.

Tatum warmed up with a ballhandling drill, Watson recalled during a phone call Monday afternoon, and then the wing went straight to the corner to shoot 3-pointers. Players normally work their way out to the arc slowly, taking closer shots first. Tatum did not bother. Even without any shots to loosen up, he was already hot.

“He drilled 40 straight off the first shot,” Watson said. “Forty straight. So I immediately turned to the owner and the GM. And I said, ‘What else do we need to see?’”

Two things conspired against Watson’s dream of pairing Tatum and Booker. The biggest one was that Suns owner Robert Sarver — one of the more meddling owners in the league — had fallen in love with Josh Jackson, who the Suns ended up selecting at No. 4. Watson wanted to trade up to make sure Phoenix landed Tatum, but that was not happening. Watson even Tweeted about it Monday.

The other thing in the way in Phoenix was Danny Ainge wanted Tatum in Celtics’ green. Boston had the No. 1 pick that year, but traded down to No. 3, moving Philadelphia up to No. 1 to select Markelle Fultz. Ainge wanted to workout Tatum — Jackson had just canceled his workout with Boston — and while Tatum was reluctant, it was his college coach Mike Krzyzewski who called up and convinced Tatum to workout for the Celtics right before the 2017 NBA Draft.

The rest is history.

Would Tatum be an All-Star and potential All-NBA player three seasons in if he played for the Suns? We’ll never know, Phoenix doesn’t have quite the same reputation for developing players that Boston does. Brad Stevens knows how to bring guys along. Also, Boston is a more stable, consistent organization that gives a player sound footing to take big steps forward, that’s not always the case in Phoenix.

For Tatum, things have worked out as well as he could hope.