Imagine, if you will, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal playing together on something more than just the same All-Star team.
The two superstars — one young, one even younger — running the break together, each flanking a third teammate, the ballhandler, who is all but guaranteed an assist. Imagine the lump in the throat of the defenders faced with such an onslaught. Or the nightmares of an opposing coach tasked with limiting two of the league’s most prolific scorers. Imagine a playoff game, imagine a Finals appearance, imagine a ring — imagine all the people living life in peace!
Ok ok, you can stop imagining, because it’s probably not going to happen. At least not anytime soon. (Same goes for the peace bit.) It’s still a nice thought though, and one that Tatum and Beal have dreamt about for many years — certainly well before Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game, when the two lifelong friends finally got a chance to play as teammates.
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“It was fun. It was fun, man,” said Beal after the game when asked what it was like to play alongside Tatum. “That’s my brother. That’s my brother forever. It was very unique and awesome to be able to share a floor with him, for us both to get going.” Beal, the league’s leading scorer, dropped 26 points in 31 minutes, while Tatum contributed 21 points in just 17 minutes of game action.
The game marked Beal’s third selection as an All-Star, and for Tatum, his second. But since only Tatum made the team last year (Beal was snubbed despite averaging 29.1 points per game at the break) the two had not yet shared the All-Star experience. So when they were both named starters this time around, it seemed like poetic justice after last season’s missed opportunity.
“We’ve never been on the same team,” continued Beal. “That in itself was a little honor. We were both ecstatic about it, and we were happy. ”
“That was super cool,” said Tatum when asked how it felt to start the game. “And sharing that moment with Brad, everyone knows how much that meant to me.”
‘St. Louis Boys Have to Stick Together’
Beal and Tatum’s connection dates back to their days growing up in St. Louis — and even predates their own births. Beal’s mom was Tatum’s mom’s high school volleyball coach and the two women remained friends as their families grew. In fact, Bradley, who will turn 28 this June, used to babysit Jayson, who just recently turned 23.
Despite their age difference and having never playing on the same team, Beal and Tatum’s careers have had similar trajectories. Both attended Chaminade College Preparatory School and both were named Gatorade National Player of the Year following their senior seasons, Beal in 2011 and Tatum in 2016. Both attended top Division-1 schools (Beal to Florida, Tatum to Duke) and both left after one year to play in the NBA. And now, both appear to be perennial All-Stars.
“St. Louis boys have to stick together,” said Beal. “We were happy we were selected on the same team, and we got to come out tonight and showcase that for the world.”
For a few years now, Beal and Tatum’s very public friendship has fueled rumors that the Celtics would try to acquire the Wizards’ shooting guard. And never have the murmurs been louder than this season. The Wizards, despite winning seven of their last 10, are far from championship caliber and could reap quite the bounty for Beal from a team looking to win this season. The Celtics, meanwhile, could be just a piece or two away from contending, and have been reportedly looking to make a move before the March 25 trade deadline. Boston owns a massive $28.5 million traded player exception from Gordon Hayward’s sign-and-trade deal to Charlotte last offseason.
Celtic vs Celtic
But any such Tatum-Beal collaboration seems extremely unlikely. Beal is under contract with the Wizards through at least next season, with a player option for 2022-23. And the 6-foot-3 sharpshooter recently stated that he wants to stay in Washington. Not to mention, even if Beal did want to relocate, the size of his salary would easily eclipse Boston’s TPE. To make room, the Celtics would need to shop their other big star, 24-year-old Jaylen Brown, and the odds of that happening are low, if not nonexistent.
After a breakout campaign last year, Brown, who essentially plays the same position as Beal, is putting up big numbers in this his fifth NBA season. He is averaging 24.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists over 33 games, and was named an All-Star for the first time. Save for minor concerns over knee soreness that has kept Brown out of the lineup a few times, the Celtics would have no reason to trade in their young burgeoning superstar for an older, more expensive model (Beal).
Playing for Team LeBron, Sunday’s All-Star exhibition in Atlanta was the first time in Brown’s professional career that he had faced off against Tatum in a “real” game. Afterward, both players were jovial about the matchup, particularly over a possession when Tatum guarded Brown on a drive to the hoop.
“He fouled me when he was on me. We knew how that was going to go,” joked Brown, who scored 22 points in 26 minutes and hails from Marietta, Georgia.
“No, I didn’t,” responded Tatum. “I was playing defense and then he got to the layup and I was about to move out the way, but we’re in Atlanta, so they gave him the foul.”