Celtics forward Jayson Tatum says Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz is “looking good” this offseason.
“He’s getting better,” Tatum told The Ringer’s Bill Simmons in an episode of his podcast that aired Friday. “I’m excited for him because, obviously, he wants to play. He wants to get out there and show people what he can do.”
After getting drafted first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fultz logged a disappointing rookie season that was plagued by a shoulder injury and shooting mechanics woes. He played in just 14 games with the 76ers, averaging 7.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 18.1 minutes on the floor. Fultz’s performance during his limited outings was varied, giving fans everything from air balls to a triple-double.
But 76ers coach Brett Brown said during summer league he has “tremendous optimism and confidence” the 20-year-old is going to have “a hell of a year” this upcoming season. Fultz recently has been working out with skills trainer Drew Hanlen, who also works with Tatum, 76ers center Joel Embiid, and Celtics forward Gordon Hayward.
Tatum said he often sees Fultz at the gym.
“Me and Markelle are really close,” Tatum said. “I see Markelle all the time.”
Fultz was benched for the entirety of the Celtics-76ers playoff series, while Tatum shined and scored 20-plus points in each of the five games. The contrast in their contributions was highlighted by several NBA analysts and fans during the postseason because the No. 1 overall pick Philadelphia used to draft Fultz originally belonged to Boston. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had traded the selection to Philly in exchange for the No. 3 overall pick, which the team used to draft Tatum, and a future first-rounder.
Though he admitted he “always wanted to be the No. 1 pick” growing up, Tatum said he’s happy and “very grateful” for the current situation.
“I don’t think there was a better situation I could have gone to, just to go from Duke to Boston,” he told Simmons. “Coming from Duke really helped me out a lot because we were always the main focus and always on TV and in the spotlight. It was no different when I got to Boston.”
“It’s just a great organization,” he continued. “I was talking to guys on our team that have played for other teams, and they said, ‘Boston is really different,’ with the support [and] just the way they run things. Every organization, from what we hear, is not great, is not the same. They say Boston is the best or one of the best organizations. There wasn’t a better situation for me to go to.”
Because of the media reports leading up to the draft, Tatum said he already had a feeling he wasn’t going to go No. 1 on draft night.
“That was just the talk: Markelle and Lonzo, one and two,” he said. “I just figured I was going third, maybe fourth.”
Ainge has said, however, the Celtics would have still selected Tatum with the No. 1 pick if the trade with the 76ers had fallen through — and Tatum doesn’t let him forget it. After all, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), rookie compensation correlates with draft order.
“I joke with Danny all the time, ‘You should have just took me No. 1. You could have kept a few dollars on my paycheck,'” Tatum told Simmons. “I tell him he owes me some money.”