Star players stay scheming when it comes to mustering up possibilities of one day joining forces on the NBA hardwood. Arguably never more so than when the Olympics come rolling around.
For example, the seeds of what would become the Miami Heat’s “Big Three” of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade were originally planted back in 2006 with Team USA. Now, 15 years later, could the makings of another star-studded collective be taking shape ahead of the Tokyo Olympics? As NBC Sports’ Justin Leger noted, the timing of the latest report involving Boston Celtics cornerstone Jayson Tatum and Portland Trail Blazers standout Damian Lillard is frankly “hard to ignore.”
Both Tatum and Lillard were recently announced as members of the 12-player U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team for 2021. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the former helped nudge Lillard into committing to the team.
Lillard was also in communication with Boston Celtics wing Jayson Tatum, who put off his decision on Team USA for some time after the season ended to evaluate his offseason priorities. Tatum was on the 2019 World Cup team that finished a disappointing seventh, in part because Tatum sprained his ankle in pool play.
When it was clear how the team was shaping up, Tatum’s uncertainty faded and he committed, sources said.
Of course, Lillard isn’t the only Team USA player that would entice the Celtics. As Barstool Sports’ Dan Greenberg highlighted, Tatum may be headed to Tokyo to compete for gold, yet chances are he’ll be donning his recruiting cap for much of the stay.
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Celtics-Lillard Speculation Gaining Steam
Of course, Lillard is currently engulfed in a vast amount of trade rumors with speculation that a trade demand out of Portland could be on the horizon. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes recently dropped a bombshell report claiming that backlash stemming from the Trail Blazers’ head coach hiring of Chauncey Billups and concerns over the organization’s ability to build a championship-contending roster have become “factors” that may push Lillard “out the door.”
As for the Celtics, they’ve been readily brought up as potential suitors for Lillard ever since their playoff exit back in May. And while the thought of such a move may remain somewhat farfetched, rumors of a Lillard-Celtics marriage have only gained steam since Boston opted to ship Kemba Walker out of town. Yes, Marcus Smart could theoretically slide into the starting point guard role left behind by Walker. Then again, he’s no Lillard.
While Lillard is set to turn 31 years old in the month of July and bolsters a contract that is set to pay him north of $176 million through 2025, his scoring prowess and clutch gene could be what the Celtics need to revert back to being legitimate Eastern Conference contenders.
Tatum Praises Lillard’s Big-Shot Ability
The NBA’s third-leading scorer from this season (28.8 points per game), Lillard has averaged 29.4 points per game dating back to 2019 and earned an All-Star nod in four consecutive seasons. Over that span, he’s solidified himself as one of, if not the premier late-game scorer in the league. In 2020-21, Lillard posted 47.3 points per 36 minutes of clutch time, ranking second in the NBA (per 82games.com).
Clearly, Tatum has been taking notice.
“It would probably be [Kyrie Irving] or Dame [Damian Lillard],” Tatum told the Kicks’ Beyond the Media podcast when asked who he would pick to take the final shot in a close game. “Those two guys have had a lot of big shots in their career.”
Despite all of Lillard’s vast accolades, he’s failed to escape the first round of the playoffs in four of the last five years. Could a change of scenery help propel the star point guard over that playoff hump? Quite possibly. It could also potentially help place the Celtics back in championship contention — although such a move would almost certainly come at the expense of losing Jaylen Brown in the process.