Tatum is off to a strong start, with nearly 10,000 career points, four All-Star appearances and several long playoff runs by age 25. But he understands that being an all-time great in Boston requires championship banners, and he hopes to win a few of those before he’s done.
“I would love to be on the Mount Rushmore of Celtics,” Tatum says. “(Larry) Bird, (Bill) Russell, Paul Pierce and those guys. They paved the way. The one thing all those guys have is chips. I have to get to the top of the mountain to even be considered as one of those guys. I want to be an all-time great, I want to be known as a winner, and I believe I will be.”
A year ago, the Celtics appeared to be in a strong position to win their 18th title as they prepared to report to training camp. They were coming off a tough Finals loss to the Warriors and had added Danilo Gallinari to an already impressive roster.
Things began to unravel when head coach Ime Udoka was suspended on September 22. Gallinari suffered an ACL tear that wound up sidelining him for the entire season, and an injury kept Robert Williams out for the early part of the year.
“It was a lot, a lot to process and deal with,” Tatum said. “And I give us credit, we came together. I think it brought us together as a team. We had the second-best record. We could have had every excuse to start off slow and make excuses.”
Tatum touches on several other topics in the lengthy interview:
On head coach Joe Mazzulla, who was frequently the target of criticism, especially as Boston fell behind 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals:
“I think it was unfair. I don’t know what more Joe could have done. He wasn’t out there turning the ball over and missing free throws. That was us.”
“I am for sure going to miss Smart. He was my teammate for six years and we’ve been through it all. We had good moments together, we had bad moments together. He’s somebody that I wish was going be my teammate forever.”
On the record-setting five-year, super-max extension that Jaylen Brown received this summer:
“I was excited for Jaylen, and I wasn’t surprised. That was a no-brainer for me because he deserves it. He had a hell of a year, the best year of his career, and he was rewarded for that. It was the right time. People make a big deal of $300 million. The NBA makes a lot of money. Contracts will be $350 and then $370 million. That’s the way it’s going. I was happy for him. I knew it was going to happen, it was a no-brainer, but I still reached out to him and told him he should be proud of himself and his family. Don’t take it for granted. This is generational.”
On his own NBA future and whether he wants to spend his entire career with one team:
“Just recently I started to feel the connection with Boston. I have spent my adult life here, my son has grown up here, I’ve grown up here. I’ve accomplished so many things. … You never know what can happen, but I love playing for the Celtics. I figured out my space in the city and have grown to really enjoy it. I love the fans. It would be really hard to leave this place.”