During the time that Kyrie Irving was on the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James, he was often asked to defer to James and supplement the four-time MVP. As a result, James often treated Irving like a little brother and would often reprimand the young point guard.
With Irving’s brief career as a member of the Boston Celtics possibly at an end, one Celtics insider indicates that Irving treated Boston teammate Jayson Tatum in a similar fashion.
Jeff Goodman appeared on a NBC Sports Boston to look at the Celtics’ failed effort to acquire New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis and how he would have personally made Tatum untouchable in any proposed deal:
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) June 17, 2019
“I would have given up anything other than Tatum. I would have rolled the dice and given up Jaylen Brown in a deal like [Al] Horford and Marcus Smart, I might have done all that, but I was not going to give up Jayson Tatum.”
Asked why Tatum’s numbers during the 2018-19 season slipped from his rookie campaign, Goodman pointed directly to the presence of Irving:
“I just think he was held back by Kyrie, I really do. I feel like Kyrie treated Tatum like LeBron treated Kyrie, to some extent. ‘You’re my little brother, this is where you’re gonna be. We’re not going to let you spread your wings too much. We’ll let you spread ’em, but you’re still a piece here.’
“If Tatum were allowed, and he will be this year, we’re going to see, I mean, this kid is, is going to be a perennial All-Star in this league. Now the big question I have, ‘Who’s going to be the point guard?’ Because [Terry] Rozier, Smart, whatever, both. Are they good enough? You need somebody still at that point guard spot to make things easier for Jayson.”
In reality, Tatum ended this past season with averages of 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, which were actually improvements from his respective rookie numbers of 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per contest.
During Tatum’s rookie campaign in 2017-18, he was forced to shoulder more responsibility due to Irving sitting out the entire postseason due to injury. However, the Celtics reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, compared to this season’s exit in the second round with a healthy Irving running the team.
In addition to having on-court chemistry issues with teammates, Irving also reportedly aggravated other Celtics with his open criticism about their play and his apparent refusal to acknowledge his own mistakes.
The 21-year-old Tatum was the third overall pick in the NBA draft just two years ago and remains a central component of the Celtics’ future. With Irving likely to sign as a free agent elsewhere next month, the hope is that Tatum will have the freedom to flourish into one of the game’s young stars.