Celtics

Brad Stevens slams ‘idiotic’ jabs at star forward Jayson Tatum

"To me that line was a joke."

Jayson Tatum Celtics
Jayson Tatum. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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When Marcus Smart publicly criticized teammates Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum earlier in the season, Brad Stevens kept his request that Smart and his Celtics teammates keep things above-board and in-house relatively diplomatic.

But the Celtics’ president of basketball operations isn’t playing it nearly as calm with this latest round of shots at Tatum, his team’s biggest star.

In his weekly Thursday appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich,” Stevens blasted anonymous comments reportedly made by an Eastern Conference assistant coach about Tatum’s perceived attitude and playing style.

“If you can’t put your name on it, don’t say it,” said Stevens in a more aggressive echo of his response to his team’s own inner turmoil at the start of the season.

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These latest disparagements of Tatum emerged from an article by ESPN NBA insider Tim Bontemps, who spoke with league executives about their impressions of the Celtics and their uneven start to the 2021 season.

Though both Tatum and Brown took their share of heat for what is seen as an inability to make players around them better, one Eastern Conference executive reportedly took special issue with Tatum’s play.

“Jayson Tatum is about Jayson Tatum,” the anonymous source said. “I don’t think he cares about winning now, and if he does, it is on his terms. He doesn’t want to score 15 and win. He wants to score 39 and win.”

Stevens called the quote “absolutely ridiculous, to be honest.”

“There is no way that assistant coach would put his name on that quote because, first of all, he has never been around Jayson,” the coach said. “And, secondly, Jayson would kill him every time he played him for the rest of his career. That’s the way those guys in this league are wired.

“I actually sent a note to one of the people I work with like, ‘This is idiotic.’ Just be around this guy every day. That guy loves to win. He’s sitting there with his feet in the ice bucket after every game that we lose and he looks despondent. This guy’s competitive. I know that for a fact. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

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Even compared to his usual early-season struggles, Tatum has had a tough few weeks to open this year for the Celtics.

His overall field goal percentage (39.7) and three-point percentage (31.9) are the worst of his career by far, and his over-reliance on contested shots and isolation play might be factoring into that.

But in the Celtics’ last two wins, Tatum has pushed himself to make winning plays outside of scoring the ball, piling up 10 assists on Sunday against Toronto and adding 16 rebounds to his 26 points in Wednesday night’s win over Philadelphia.

The All-Star forward has acknowledged the criticism but reaffirmed his focus on winning basketball games — something Stevens said no one should ever question.

“To me, that line was a joke because I’m around him every day,” Tatum’s former coach said. “You look at him, he plays, he’s available, he competes, he’s got a lot on his plate. He’s done a lot more in his first five years in the league than most of the league.”

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