A large portion of the basketball world, including some wise individuals in Las Vegas, believe the Boston Celtics are the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2019 NBA Finals. Given the defection of LeBron James to the West, the East feels open for the taking and the Celtics project to have healthy versions of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to add to an already intriguing unit from the 2018 postseason.
Of course, there are other contenders, headlined by the Sixers and Raptors, and nothing is assured for Boston until Brad Stevens actually has a full complement of high-end players to deploy on a nightly basis. If that healthy rotation comes together, though, some have speculated that Boston could have a “problem” in that they almost have too much talent, particularly on the wing, that might force a top-end player to the bench at the start of games.
To that end, standout forward Jayson Tatum was prompted about the possibility of coming off the bench at some point this season and he shared his response with Nicole Yang of Boston.com this week.
“Everybody has a job to do,” he said. “Our job is to be the best versions of ourselves and come together for a bigger goal, which is winning a championship. Brad’s job is to manage playing time and manage all sorts of stuff. That’s why he’s the coach. We got a bunch of selfless guys on the team that just want to win. We’ll figure it out.”
Tatum said it does not matter to him whether he starts or comes off the bench.
“I understand how deep our team is,” he said. “I just care about winning and doing what I can while I’m on the floor.”
On the surface, it feels absurd to suggest that someone with Tatum’s pedigree and rookie performance would come off the bench, and that’s because it is. The Celtics have a clear “top five” in terms of players on the roster, and it features Tatum, Irving, Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford. With the influx of small ball around the NBA, there is no reason to think that that quintet couldn’t play together on a regular basis and it would be almost odd to see any of them operating in a reserve role for any length of time.
Is there an argument that Marcus Morris, the most natural power forward on the roster, is worthy of a starting nod on most teams? Absolutely. Still, this isn’t a situation in which ego can be freely ignored and the Celtics happen to have five players that can play together. That group almost has to be the starting five, even if Stevens gets creative and staggers the rotation for maximum optimization.
Tatum is saying the right thing here and that, combined with his intriguing array of skill and early-career production, makes him all the more impressive. It would be utterly wild if he came off the bench, though, and the same that can be said of any member of that five-man unit.