With the third pick in the 2017 draft, Jayson Tatum was picked up by the Boston Celtics. But, as the young star revealed in an appearance on "All The Smoke" podcast, he thought he could be headed somewhere else:
“I didn’t know where I was going,” Tatum said. “I figured it’d be Boston or Phoenix and when I finally heard my name called, it was by far the best day of my life because this is what I’ve been working for for 16 years, but it was a part of me that didn’t really want to go to Boston.”
There was a strong belief that the Suns were going to pick up Tatum. In fact, had it not been by a nudge from coach Mike Krzyzewski, he might not have even been picked up by Boston, either.
“He’s like, ‘Jayson, the Celtics called, they want you to come work out,’” Tatum recalled. “I think Brad Stevens is a great coach. It’s a great place to be. You’ll learn a lot.”
Of course, had Tatum been available, Suns fans would like to think he would have still been wearing a Suns jersey today. But in an article by The Athletic's Jay King, he reveals that the thought process from Suns owner Robert Sarver at the time suggested otherwise.
As much as the combination made sense to Watson, he said Sarver saw the situation differently. He remembers Sarver saying of the Suns, “We do not need another Devin Booker.” The owner believed Tatum’s skills might too closely shadow Booker’s. Watson realized the wings would actually accentuate each other, especially with the NBA veering more toward versatility, interchangeability and skill. Tatum’s pre-draft workout for the Suns, in Los Angeles, only solidified Watson’s belief in the pairing’s potential. Beginning with the shooting demonstration, it was, as Watson said, "a crazy workout."
"I’ve never seen anything like it,” Watson said. “I could see it quick like I saw it in Devin Booker quick, when people questioned it. I could see it quick. And (during the shooting drill) the owner stopped him. I don’t know how many more he could have made, but the owner stopped the drill. And you don’t stop that drill. You just don’t. You just sit there and you admire it and you stay out of the way. So the owner stops the drill and says, ‘That’s nice. What else can you do?’ I’m like, ‘What? What? The workout should be over. This is our guy.’”
Needless to say, Tatum impressed at the workout and Earl Watson (the Suns' head coach at the time) campaigned hard for his arrival -- even suggesting that the team should trade up for him in the draft.
“He drilled 40 straight off the first shot,” Watson said. “Forty straight. So I immediately turned to the owner and the GM. And I said, ‘What else do we need to see?’”
Watson wanted Tatum badly enough to hold what he called “uncomfortable” conversations with team owner Robert Sarver, trying to convince the organization it should do whatever it took to draft the Duke star. Sarver preferred Josh Jackson, Watson said, but Watson kept pushing back with a different idea.
“We need to f---ing get Tatum,” Watson recalled saying.
In the end, Tatum would go on to make his first All-Star team and eventually become the face of the Celtics. Even at just 21-years-old, he is considered a star in this league.
The same cannot be said for Jackson, who set a career-low in points this season with an average of 10.4.