Even the allure of landing Anthony Davis — one of the best players in the NBA — wasn’t enough to convince the Celtics to trade away Jayson Tatum, which speaks to how highly Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge thinks of the 21-year-old forward.
Tatum has shown flashes of greatness in two seasons since Boston selected him third overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, and the Celtics reportedly weren’t keen on trading him to the New Orleans Pelicans with Davis, who can become a free agent next offseason, unwilling to commit to Boston long term.
“I would have been shocked if (Ainge) would have done the deal,” one Eastern Conference general manager told NBC Sports Boston. “Danny loves Jayson. Anytime you talk about his team and the conversation steers towards Jayson, it’s obvious … it would have to be a special, special talent that wasn’t going anywhere for a while to get Ainge to trade him. If Anthony’s people would have been open to him sticking around longer, maybe Danny would have seriously thought about it then. But Ainge when it comes to Tatum … he thinks the kid is going to a special, special player in this league.”
The Pelicans reportedly agreed to trade Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, ending months of speculation over whether the Celtics would go all-in for the six-time All-Star despite his looming free agency next summer and Kyrie Irving’s current trip to the open market. It now appears Boston will build around a young core comprised of Tatum and Jaylen Brown, with the organization’s confidence in re-signing Irving reportedly deteriorating.
That might not be the worst idea given the promise the Celtics showed with Tatum, Brown and fellow up-and-comer Terry Rozier leading the charge during the 2018 playoffs, in which Boston came within one win of reaching the NBA Finals. Had the Celtics traded Tatum for Davis, only to see AD walk in free agency after one season, it could’ve set the franchise back for several years, especially if Irving signs elsewhere in the coming weeks.
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