Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Until Tuesday night, an opening-night meeting with LeBron James will remain nothing more than a daydream for Jayson Tatum. But the Boston Celtics rookie said he is already anticipating the matchup. He has allowed himself to think about defending James, to wonder what will happen when he’s lined up against this generation’s greatest player.
“It went good in my head,” Tatum said, smiling as if to acknowledge guarding James in real life doesn’t always go so well.
“I used to watch LeBron (James) on TV growing up,” he said, “and playing my first game against him, it’s a lot.”
Tatum acknowledged that he grew up thinking about playing against James. Asked the outcome of those daydreams, he smiled and said, “It went good in my head.”
Overall, the rookie said, “I’m getting anxious. I’m excited to get the regular season started.” As for what his teammates have told him, he said, “Basically that the regular season and preseason are just like night and day, and it’s going to be a totally different ballgame.”
Two years ago, Jayson Tatum was a 17-year-old kid going into his senior year at Chaminade College Prep outside of St. Louis.
Two years ago, LeBron James was a 30-year-old, 12-year NBA veteran with two championship rings and on his way to a third.
Two days from now, they will, undoubtedly, be guarding each other at some point, during an NBA game.
LeBron is 32 now going into his 15th season of an NBA career that began when Tatum was in kindergarten. Jayson literally grew up watching LeBron’s entire career and now, in a matter of a couple of days, Tatum will have to figure out how to stop that freight train.
He won’t start out guarding LeBron. He’ll probably guard someone else. But suddenly his guy will go set a pick… Tatum will hear his teammate yell “SWITCH!” and… boom…
Say what you want about LeBron, but that’s an “oh shit” moment right there.
Now… Tatum is a good basketball player. He has the ability to slide his feet and get his hands up and do things that we will call good defense. If things go the way Tatum daydreamed them, maybe he slides his feet fast enough to draw a charge. Maybe he hangs with LeBron and challenges the shot… hell, maybe he even blocks it!
Or… maybe… in 10 years he’ll look back and laugh at that as his first “welcome to the NBA” moment. We won’t know until it happens.
And it will. In two days.
Related links: Globe: Jayson Tatum hopes season opener lives up to his dreams | NBC Boston: What should we really expect from Jayson Tatum in his rookie season?
Page 2: The Celtics and Smart are talking money
This isn’t all that surprising. The deadline is tomorrow so the Celtics will make a token, below-market offer hoping to get Smart locked up at a good price and avoid the mess of restricted free agency. I’d be a little surprised if Smart’s camp accepted a low-ball offer because it will probably be an offer they can sign in July.
I ran through a lot of the contract scenarios last Sunday… and I think if Smart is willing to take something around 4-years, $50 million this deal can get done now. The market has spoken loudly and it says Smart is worth at least that. If either side wants to roll the dice on Smart figuring out his shooting this season, then we might have to wait.
Part of Smart’s problem is that his value is very difficult to figure out. He clearly impacts winning on the floor but his raw statistics don’t necessarily back up his importance. Casual fans will call up his page, blurt out his numbers, and say he’s not worth the money. It’s something Smart is keenly aware of.
“If you truly, truly know basketball,” he said, “I’m talking about the guys who actually played and understand that — you know without all those guys who are doing the work, and the little things, for all those guys putting up the numbers, they wouldn’t be able to do it.
“Guess what? Those guys aren’t the guys who are going out there guarding the other team’s best player, then coming back and scoring 40 or 50. Those guys are put on someone who isn’t very much of a threat on the other team. Guys like me are forced to be put on guys who are the best player on the other team. And we take on that responsibility.
“It’s easy to go out there and score 40 on somebody. But can you stop somebody from scoring 40? That’s tough.”
The Celtics know Smart’s value. I think most Celtics fans understand it too. He’s probably Exhibit A for the “Eye Test” side in the case of Eye Test v. Statistics. It’s hard not to notice Smart’s impact out there on a regular basis… and it’s entertaining as hell.
I still expect this negotiation to go into July because that makes the most sense for Boston. As I’ve been saying for some time, restricted free agency does not really benefit any non-star players because their value can be suppressed by simply indicating to teams that you’ll match their offer sheets… and teams don’t want their dollars tied up for days when they know Boston is just going to match the offer.
Maybe, by some odd twist, this gets done in the next 24 hours, but I don’t think it will. Ainge would rather keep the flexibility in case of an unforeseen circumstance than tie up his money now. Ainge has rarely not kept his options open… so I doubt he’ll start now.
Aron Baynes will be ready for the opener…
“He did well,” Stevens said. “He went through most if not all of practice. He’s felt better and better every day and has probably exceeded our expectations. We’ll see how he feels [on Sunday].”
“I’m doing well, considering how I felt the other night,” he said. “I’m able to get out here, run around a little bit with the fellas, it’s always good.”
I asked him about being ready for Tuesday night.
“I’m definitely on track for that,” Baynes said. “It’s still day-to-day. I’m going to go out on the limb here, literally, and say I should be available. Love a good pun!”
The Celtics lineups will be very interesting to start the season because (a) Baynes is still recovering from the hyperextended knee (b) Mook Morris is still getting his legs under him and (c) Brad Stevens is a notorious tinkerer to start seasons anyway and he’s got too many options to settle on just one right away.
Still, it’s nice to hear Baynes is doing alright. After last season’s crush of injuries, it’d be nice to have a relatively calm season on that front (insert any wood knocking or other non-jinxing things you may do).
The rest of the links:
Celtics.com: Rooks are Preparing for Opening-Night Fireworks
BBall Breakdown: Eastern Conference win projections