Jayson Tatum details rude awakening he delivered in preseason meeting with 5 other Celtics

Peter Dewey
7 Min Read
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum had a meeting with key players on the team to explain that one of their top players wasn’t always going to be able to finish games – or start them – this season.

The Celtics added Kristaps Porzinigis and Jrue Holiday in the offseason, giving the team one of the best starting groups in the NBA. However, among Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Porzingis, Holiday, Al Horford and Derrick White, someone was going to be the odd man out.

“I wanted us to get in the room and talk about it,” Tatum told ESPN. “We all are human and have feelings, and I opened the floor and basically said, ‘There’s six of us. Only five can play at one time. One of us is not going to finish the game all the time.

“Whether it’s fair or not, me and J.B. are probably going to always start, and always finish the game. But we have to be held to a different standard and be able to be coached differently. Whether it’s K.P. and Al, one of you guys may not finish a game, and you have to be OK with that.”

Tatum’s meeting with the team was a huge moment for players to realize they were going to need to make some sacrifices.

“I think, honestly, it was a very important moment for us,” Porzingis told ESPN. “Just to kind of look each other in the eye, and know that we’re here for one job, and to understand that we’re all going to be willing to make some sacrifices.”

Holiday, who was acquired late in the offseason, apparently did not care about coming off the bench if that was what the team needed. That unselfishness did not go unnoticed.

“I’ve just been really impressed with [Holiday’s] commitment to the team, to what we’re trying to do,” Horford told ESPN. “You can already tell he’s a no-excuse type of guy. It’s a lot, what he’s had to go through and relocation and getting used to a new environment, and we’re asking a lot of him.”

Holiday revealed to ESPN that the meeting helped him feel comfortable as a new member of the team.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Even just knowing that we had it early, we had it before the season started. We didn’t have to figure this out later on, or let it linger and kind of keep it under the rug.

“It was good to have it at the time we had it.”

When the Celtics have had all six players available, Horford has been the one who has been relegated to the bench. The veteran big man has started just three of the 12 games he’s played in this season.

A five-time All-Star, Horford has taken his move to the bench well. He’s playing 24.0 minutes per game for Boston this season and averaging 6.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s the most inspiring thing for me as a coach is to watch him…he’s one of the most selfless, humble people that you have,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said of Horford.

The veteran has been praised by his teammates as well for accepting the new role – and thriving when called upon.

“He’s the ultimate professional, the ultimate team guy,” Tatum said of Horford. “He does whatever we need him to do on a nightly basis to win, and we all believe in him and the work that he puts in.”

Horford has been a key part of the Celtics rotation for several seasons, helping the team reach the NBA Finals in the 2021-22 campaign.

“Al is amazing,” White said. “Everything he does out there I’m just thankful to be his teammate, just seeing the work he puts in day in and day out, it’s inspiring. You see why he’s played for 17 [seasons] now.”

The Celtics have gotten off to a great start this season, winning 11 of their first 14 games, putting them atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Tatum shared how Horford’s impact has helped him and the team this season.

“It had a lot to do with Al,” Tatum said. “I got so, so much respect for him, and knowing that he might be the guy coming off the bench and I didn’t want it to just be a thing where we got new guys in, and it’s like, ‘All right, Al you’re coming off the bench.’

“I know how much he’s meant to this organization, how much he’s meant to me. And just to have that talk…basically we got six starters, and one of us has to come off the bench on any given night. I give Al a lot of credit.”

Boston is hoping that this season’s group – a different one from previous seasons – will help it get back to the NBA Finals and win a championship, something it hasn’t done in the Tatum era.

With the group of players that Boston has now, expectations remain sky high for the 2023-24 season.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball, football and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.