Jayson Tatum looking forward to future with Celtics, even as they stumble


Jayson Tatum joined a Celtics team brimming with possibility.

Boston had just become the first playoff team to win the lottery. Even beyond a roster good enough to make the Eastern Conference finals and the No. 1 pick, the Celtics had a treasure trove of assets and flexibility. By trading down for Tatum, Boston got the draft’s best player and another valuable-looking pick.

The Celtics, it seemed, could contend for championships for the next decade.

Nearly four years later, Boston is 15-17, expensive and devoid of extra first-round picks.

Suddenly, it’s time to do what we do with stars on losing teams – speculate about their future. It’s now even more conspicuous Tatum negotiated a 2025 player option into his max rookie-scale extension last offseason.

“Obviously, I don’t want to leave Boston,” Tatum said. “I don’t have any intentions on that. It’s just more of a flexibility thing. But I love being here. I love this organization. I love the city. So, I don’t want people to view it as I’m trying to leave a year early. I don’t have any plans of that.”

Though Tatum’s 2025 player option feels ages away, you better believe the Celtics are considering how they’ll put their best foot forward with him and other teams are plotting how they can poach him. Even if Tatum intends to opt in or opt out to sign a new deal with Boston, this can’t be escaped: The player option allows him to leave sooner than he could otherwise.

The Celtics have suffered an stars/near-star exodus in recent years – Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. Now, Boston must hope that doesn’t lead to Tatum and Jaylen Brown (whose contract expires in 2024) following out the door in an even larger unraveling.

“Here’s the biggest thing about Jaylen and Jayson is,” Celtics president Danny Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub, “They’ve been shielded before because they’ve had other really good players and veterans around them.

“Now, it’s on them. Now, they’re the stars. And they’ve got the big contracts. And they got the All-Star nods. So, the microscope is on them.”

Make no mistake: This is a first-world NBA problem, one that appears worse only because Boston was in such good shape just a few years ago. Tatum (22) and Brown (24) are the youngest All-Star teammates since Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with the Thunder and Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway with the Magic. Tatum and Brown are also wings, the NBA’s scarcest position. Many teams would love to trade their problems’ for the Celtics’.

Still, Boston has problems.

Kemba Walker – who’s due $73,669,500 – over the next two seasons is looking less like a star and more like an impediment. He’s a small guard on the wrong side of 30 with nagging knee issues. His situation has been heading south, and it’s hard to reverse the trend.

The Celtics’ other rookie-scale players – Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Romeo Lanford and Aaron Nesmith – carry varying degrees of uncertainty. None have proven to be reliable high-level contributors, though they’re all young enough to get there.

Marcus Smart‘s injury has further exposed a team lacking sufficient depth.

“This is a me problem,” Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “And I’m saying that I love my two young guys. They’re not perfect, and they’re learning, and this adversity is part of their growth and development. Not intentionally. It’s just the nature of the beast.”

Boston can still fulfill its championship promise. The Celtics still have all their own future first-round picks. Their young players can develop or maybe be traded. The $28.5 million Gordon Hayward trade exception is a valuable tool – if ownership is willing to add salary.

But the unending optimism around Boston is done. Building up will be far more difficult than it previously seemed.

Tatum insists he’s unfazed.

“That’s not really my job to kind of worry about trades or assets or things like that,” Tatum said. “I think my job is to go out there and perform.”

It’s a healthy attitude.

Similarly, Tatum downplayed money as a motivation for making an All-NBA team this season. If he makes one, that’d increase his compensation a projected $25,180,781 over the first four seasons of his extension:

Season Without 2021 All-NBA With 2021 All-NBA
2021-22 $28,103,550 $33,724,260
2022-23 $30,351,834 $36,422,201
2023-24 $32,600,118 $39,120,142
2024-25 $34,848,402 $41,818,082
2025-26 $37,096,686 $44,516,023
Pre-PO Total $125,903,904 $151,084,685

Tatum soundly trails LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the race for the six All-NBA forward slots. That leaves two spots up for grabs between Tatum, Brown, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Zion Williamson, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton and Bam Adebayo (most of whom could slide to other positions).

Tatum correctly recognizes he’s more likely to make an All-NBA team if the Celtics are winning. So, it’s an easy goal to pursue for the “right” reasons. Despite Ainge taking blame for Boston’s current struggles, Tatum isn’t running from responsibility.

“You want to be somewhere where they believe in you and they want you there, but it’s all of our fault,” Tatum said. “Myself, J.B., the team – we’re all in this together. So, I don’t think anyone is exempt.”

If Tatum – who has battled lingering effects from coronavirus – and the Celtics get everything together the rest of the season, he could get that super-max windfall. And his player option could allow him to earn far more money on his next deal.

In the 2024 offseason, Tatum would be eligible for a veteran super-max extension if he does any of the following:

  • Makes an All-NBA team in 2024
  • Makes All-NBA teams in both 2022 and 2023
  • Wins MVP in 2022, 2023 or 2024

Everything could fall into place for Tatum and the Celtics in the coming years. Again, those honors are more likely to come as the team is winning.

But there’s also a theory NBA salaries have gotten so high, stars have more flexibility to pick their teams. The league’s system is designed to give incumbent teams a financial advantage with their own players. But when players will earn hundreds of millions of dollars regardless, they’re more likely to consider factors other than where they’ll get 10s of millions more.

Tatum also has a growing endorsement portfolio, including an ad campaign with Ruffles.

His future looks bright. So does Brown’s.

And that’s a great start for the Celtics.

But the team is closer to square one of a rise than anyone would’ve expected.

NBA, players union agree on new seven-year CBA


Labor peace continues in the NBA.

They had to push back the deadline twice — then miss the latest deadline by a couple of hours — to get it done, but the NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association have come to terms on a new seven-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by the NBA (at 3 a.m. Eastern).

While votes of both the owners and players need to ratify the new deal, it is expected to pass quickly and without controversy. The NBA continues to grow rapidly (particularly internationally) and is in the midst of negotiating a new national television and streaming deal expected to more than double television revenue flowing into the league (money split between the owners and players). Ultimately, nobody wanted to risk killing the golden goose with a labor stoppage.

Here are some of the reported key points of the new CBA:

• There will be a new mid-season tournament, mostly played before Christmas. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for this, looking to add interest and put more meaning into regular season games.

• Players must take the floor in at least 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards, such as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. The idea is to motivate players (and teams) to get their best players in more games and limit load management. This rule will not kick in until next season (at the earliest) but if in place this season it would keep Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and others off an All-NBA team.

• The one-and-done rule remains as the NBA is not changing its minimum age requirement to be drafted (one year after a player’s class graduates high school).

• Players will no longer face discipline from the league for marijuana use. It had already been taken out of the league’s drug testing program.

• There are changes to the luxury tax, particularly for the highest-spending teams, something detailed first by ESPN. It will involve adding a second tax apron — 17.5 million over the tax line — and teams above it will no longer have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception. This rule is targeted at the highest-spending teams (the Clippers and Warriors this season, the Nets were on that track before blowing up the roster.

• However, teams in the middle and on the bottom of payroll spending will have expanded opportunities (to spend more) in free agency, or to generate larger trade exceptions for other deals.

• Veteran contract extensions will be able to start at 140% of the last year of the existing contract, up from 120% in the current CBA. That will allow more teams to offer larger extensions and keep key players.

• Teams will gain a third two-way contact slot.

More details will be added as they become available.


Kevin Durant drops 30, Suns win fourth straight beating shorthanded Nuggets


PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns are starting to string together some wins now that Kevin Durant is healthy.

Even so, they’re far from a well-oiled machine.

Durant scored 30 points, Devin Booker added 27 and the Suns won their fourth straight game by beating the short-handed Denver Nuggets 100-93 on Friday night.

The Suns improved to 5-0 with Durant in the lineup despite nearly blowing a 27-point lead. Phoenix traded for the 13-time All-Star in a deadline deal back in February.

“I like how we played in the first half, but it was a bad second half for us,” Durant said. “We just let our foot off the gas a little and they were playing extremely hard. … We’ve just got to do a better job of sticking with it.”

The Nuggets rested a big chunk of their starting lineup, including reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, guards Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forward Michael Porter Jr. But they still showed fight after trailing 60-40 at halftime.

“I am immensely proud,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You are down 27 points on the road, second half, second night in a row. Every reason just to roll over and play dead and get ready for Sunday at home. Guys just wouldn’t do it.”

The Suns pushed their advantage to 27 midway through the third quarter, but the Nuggets pulled to 84-74 heading into the fourth quarter. Denver cut it to 97-93 in the final minute, but Josh Okogie nailed a corner 3 to seal it for the Suns. Okogie had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and Chris Paul had 13 assists.

Aaron Gordon had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Nuggets. Bruce Brown scored 16 points and Reggie Jackson had 13. The overmatched but feisty Nuggets got 22 points from the bench.

“It was our energy and our effort,” backup guard Peyton Watson said. “We know we were missing guys but that doesn’t change the culture here. We always want to play hard, get stops.”

Durant shot 11 of 15 from the field in a dominant performance two days after a rough shooting night in his home debut against Minnesota. The 34-year-old star has battled knee and ankle injuries over the past few months, but appears to be getting healthy as the Suns continue to cling to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Suns scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter on Friday, but managed to hang on for the victory.

“We’re trying to find that rhythm and trying to get wins at the same time,” Booker said.

Damian Lillard says Trail Blazers shut him down, talks loyalty to Portland


Players feel the wrath of fans for load management in the NBA, but more often than not it’s a team’s medical and training staff — driven by analytics and the use of wearable sensors — that sit a player. Guys don’t get to the NBA not wanting to compete.

Case in point, Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season, but he told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show that it was a team call, not his.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my decision at all. I think maybe the team protecting me from myself… Every time that I’ve had some type injury like that kind of get irritated or aggravated or something like that, it’s come from just like a heavy load, and stress, and just, you know, going out there and trying to go above and beyond. So, you know, I would say just; there is something there, and also them just trying to protect me from myself as well.”

Maybe it’s a little about protecting Lillard at age 32 — who played at an All-NBA level this season — but it’s more about lottery odds.

Portland and Orlando are tied for the league’s fifth and sixth-worst records. The team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance at the No.1 pick, the sixth worst is 9%. More than that, the fifth-worst record has a 42% chance of moving up into the top four at the draft lottery, for the sixth seed that is 37.2%. Not a huge bump in the odds, but the chances are still better for the fifth seed than the sixth, so the Trail Blazers as an organization are going for it.

Lillard also talked about his loyalty to Portland, which is partly tied to how he wants to win a ring — the way Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo did, with the team and city that drafted them.

“I just have a way that I want to get things done for myself… I just have my stance on what I want to see happen, but in this business, you just never know.”

Other teams are watching Lillard, but they have seen this movie before. Nothing will happen until Lillard asks for a trade and he has yet to show any inclination to do so.

But he’s got time to think about everything as he is not taking the court again this season.

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.