BOSTON — After the summer the Boston Celtics have had, Jayson Tatum isn’t surprised they’re entering this season with a spotlight fixed on them.
“People expect us to get to the championship and win,” Tatum said Monday. “And if we don’t, we didn’t necessarily meet expectations.”
That’s because during an offseason full of movement around the NBA, the Celtics were among the league’s busiest teams.
In June, they parted ways with defensive stalwart and emotional leader Marcus Smart in a three-team deal that netted them big man Kristaps Porzingis.
KP is all in on Boston ☘️ pic.twitter.com/6ahgFO0RRD
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 2, 2023
The following month, All-Star Jaylen Brown received the richest contract in NBA history when he signed a five-year supermax extension.
Then, Sunday on the eve of training camp Boston made another blockbuster move. This time trading reigning Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and rim protector Robert Williams III to Portland in exchange for five-time all-defensive selection Jrue Holiday.
It’s shaken up the core for a team that came up a game short last season of a second straight trip to the NBA Finals. But as much as things have changed over the past few months in Boston, one thing continues to ring true: The Celtics will eventually only go as far as Tatum can take them.
It’s a burden the four-time All-Star says he is ready and willing to confront.
“Is it pressure? Yeah,” Tatum said. “There’s a handful of teams each year that realistically can probably win the championship. And we’re in that mix. That’s what we’re aiming for. And that’s where we should be aiming.”
Tatum, a three-time All-NBA selection, will enter his seventh season as the Celtics’ second-longest tenured player behind only Brown.
And as much as additions like Holiday and Porzingis were executed to bolster the franchise in the long term, it will also immediately lift the leadership responsibilities for Tatum higher than ever.
Though Tatum has received criticism in the past for not being a vocal star, he says it won’t be a new hat for him to wear.
“My voice and my presence is felt. During the games, huddle, locker room, practice, film – I speak up,” Tatum said. “Everybody may not see it. It may not be the loudest. But I speak my mind. I listen to guys and guys listen to me.”
A voice that can help this new group come together will be of the utmost importance as the Celtics try to capitalize on their championship window in an Eastern Conference that has gotten more competitive following the arrival of Damian Lillard in Milwaukee.
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla welcomes the additional attention.
“We’re all trying to achieve something that is really hard,” Mazzulla said. “To me, the expectations should be there.”
Tatum hit the gym hard this summer, working out alongside Basketball Hall of Famer Paul Pierce while going through his normal offseason regimen.
Pierce, of course, was part of the last Celtics team to capture a championship in 2008.
“It was cool to have him around,” Tatum said. “He told us a lot of stories about the championship team. A lot of things that will try to apply this year.”
Brown also joined Tatum for some workouts this summer, as both try to make good on their stated goals to make the NBA’s All-Defensive team.
“We’ve worked out in the summer before, but nobody was paying attention to it then. But I guess everybody’s paying attention to it now,” Brown said. “Just trying to get better. Trying to improve together. Trying to work on our chemistry.”
Tatum has added about 12 pounds of muscle after being bothered by a nagging wrist injury late last season.
He opted not to have surgery after multiple consultations with doctors and said he “took all the right measures to make sure I was healthy and prepare to come into this season with no distractions.”
It’s left his focus on doing whatever extra he needs to do on the court to lead to the Celtics to an 18th championship.
“Whatever we’ve done has been great. But it hasn’t been enough,” Tatum said. “So from myself going down the line, everybody’s got to sacrifice or be willing to do more. … because we haven’t accomplished what we’re trying to do.”
Following Lillard’s initial trade request from Portland, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said they began to wonder whether Portland was going to get somebody that they would then move on from as a result of trading him.
That included keeping a list of potential players that would likely have to be included in a trade for Lillard in order to make the money match up for the teams interested in acquiring him.
When that became Holiday, Stevens said it was a no-brainer to trade for him.
“There’s a list of guys in the league that you think you’ll never have a real chance to get. Guys you think are perfect fits and that you’d love to be a Celtic. And Jrue is one of those guys,” Stevens said.
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