Should the NBA reconvene in Orlando as planned in the coming weeks, with a season set for tip-off on July 30, the Celtics have emerged as one of the teams with the potential to upset the league order and wriggle their way into the NBA Finals.
If everyone is present and accounted for, that is. One report now suggests that All-Star forward Jayson Tatum is reluctant to get back on the floor as a cadre of players opposed to the league set-up at the Disney World complex is creating a bigger-than-expected problem for the plans to finish the 2019-20 season and crown a champion.
That is, potentially, a big blow for the Celtics. It could be a bigger blow to Tatum himself in the long run, though.
According to the New York Daily News and others, Tatum has “expressed reluctance” to get back on the floor on the NBA’s timetable, fearing the risk of injury ahead of what will be an important offseason for him. Tatum is in his third season in the league, making him eligible for a contract extension.
It is a near certainty that Tatum will warrant a max-contract deal from the Celtics, who have mapped their future around the development of Tatum and teammate Jaylen Brown, who was granted a contract extension last season worth nearly $100 million over four years. Based on previous salary-cap projections, Tatum’s deal can be worth five years and about $170 million.
It is understandable that he does not want to jeopardize that.
Missing NBA Return Would Hurt Tatum’s Next Contract
But there is something of a Catch-22 in Tatum’s reluctance to take the court again. If enough players, especially stars like Tatum, back out of the Disney plan, the league may have to shut down the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
If that happens, Tatum could lose on two fronts. Without the revenue from this season and with seriously reduced revenue projected for next year, Tatum’s max-contract payout will be similarly scaled back. That will cost Tatum millions.
There’s a worst-case scenario, too. With no finish to this season, the league has the power to enforce the force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement, which would allow team owners to effectively tear up the old CBA and force the players to work out a new deal. That would lead to some stoppage—either a strike or a lockout—damaging the league’s salary structure even more.
Owners would have significantly more leverage in crafting a new CBA under pandemic conditions than players.
In that case, there’s no telling what Tatum’s contract would look like. There’s very little chance it would be for five years and $170 million, though.
Tatum has had a Breakout Season With the Celtics
At age 22 (and he only turned 22 in March), Tatum has established himself as one of the brightest young stars in the game, earning his first spot on the All-Star team this year. Should he take the floor for the Celtics in Orlando, the team stands a decent chance of upsetting Milwaukee in the East.
The league has been considering insurance options to make it easier for players like Tatum—afraid of the injury risk and awaiting a big payday—to play in Orlando.
Tatum averaged 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds this season, making 44.8% of his shots and 39.8% of his 3-point attempts. And he’d gotten better as the season went on, sparking hopes that he could carry the Celtics into a deep playoff run. Tatum had averaged 28.6 points over the last 20 games he played before the season suspension.
After Tatum tied a career-high with 41 points against the Lakers in Los Angeles, a game in which he shot 12-for-20 from the field, Lakers star LeBron James posted a photo of him next to Tatum on Instagram and wrote, “That boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!!”
“The kid is special,” James later told reporters. “Obviously that’s a reason he’s a first-time All-Star, and he’s been special all year.”
Tatum has had a breakout season and is on the cusp of superstardom. Tatum wants to protect his health, as he should. But protecting his health could mean hurting the next contract he is eager to land.