Building a dream roster of Celtics legends around Jayson Tatum

First of all, happy holiday season, everyone!

The Celtics didn’t get over the hump this year, but honestly, I think we’re all enjoying a little break from the heart-pounding, stress-inducing playoff basketball we saw from Boston this postseason.

As part of that break, let’s do a fun activity. All of this was born out of a conversation I had with my dad about what is the best possible Celtics team you could build around Jayson Tatum. When we got bored with normal NBA players, we thought, “what if we had a time machine and could bring Celtics legends to the present?”

Well, it’s time to get to the results of the exciting proposal. I have a few options per position, so let’s get into it.

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Point Guard: 1986-87 Dennis Johnson
Honorable Mention: Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart

Point guard was honestly the hardest position to pick because I still don’t think we’ve seen the best possible PG next to Tatum. It’s a bit of a mystery, but I wanted a guy who can pass, defend, move the ball away, but most importantly, provide leadership and direction on the defensive end.

Dennis Johnson is a good choice for this place. His defensive leadership and ability to make big plays would be great to help get this team going in transition. In addition, he knows everything about ball movement and sharing the rock. We’re going to have some big shooters on this team, so it’s important to have a guy who knows how to play with hitters of that caliber.

Now, they didn’t shoot many 3s in 1986, so we’re projecting a bit here, but I think today’s Dennis Johnson would be a better 3-point shooter. He was always a pretty good FT shooter and would have plenty of open options. DJ would be the rock on this team. For honorable mentions, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart are similar PGs to DJ. Rondo needs the ball a little more than I’d be comfortable with on this team, and while I love Smart, we’ve already seen some of the issues that come with him and Tatum. DJ feels like a slightly improved version of Marcus.

Shooting Guard: 2010-11 Ray Allen
Honorable Mention: Sam Jones, Jaylen Brown

Imagine 44% 3-point shooting by Ray Allen next to Jayson Tatum. Movement off the ball, timely steals, huge clutch shots, Ray Allen is the perfect guy to play next to an increasingly creative Tatum. Now, at this point, Ray Allen is 35, so his minutes load will have to be maintained a bit. I think it would help this team a lot to have a good guard off the bench as a 6th or 7th man. But Ray is simply too good at all the things this team needs to be great to keep him out of. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact, and he’ll provide enough effort on the defensive end to make up for a lack of stride. The Celtics reached a Finals with this version of Ray Allen playing 36 minutes, but that may be the Doc Rivers effect over anything. Rays get the starting spot, hopefully he doesn’t snake the team to play for the Heat’s all-time team. Feels like they might have their SG spot locked up, just a tad though.

Set number: X4822

Sam Jones would also be a good fit next to Tatum. He would get crazy buckets on this team and would constantly go up against the 3rd, maybe 4th best defender on the other team. Same goes for Jaylen Brown, hard not to include him with how much he’s won and Tatum has already accomplished.

Small Forward: 2022-23 Jayson Tatum

No need for an honorable mention here! We’ll stick with the current MVP candidate version of Jayson Tatum. An elite two-way forward with an incredible handle for a guy his size, he’s the dream wing to build around for any team. His pull-up 3-point FG% certainly needs to get higher, but on a team like this, he could be matched up with smaller defenders, which could boost his numbers even more.

As his playmaking skills continue to develop, he will have interesting shot makers and players all over the court to utilize. This team will make him better and help him see the floor even better. Plus, defensively, he will be a maestro on this team. He will likely be thrust into a more on-ball role on this team, but as we’ve seen before, that’s not a problem for him at all. This team in transition would just be scary. Tatum is our man and I can only imagine what the ’23-24 version of him will look like.

Photo by Steve Lipofsky/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Power Forward: 1984-85 Larry Bird
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett, Al Horford

I could have put Larry at either SF or PF to trade him with Tatum, but after talking to some people in the know, we settled on this version of Larry Bird. This version of Larry still put up huge numbers, nearly 29 ppg with about 7 apg on the offensive end, but his rebounding numbers this season were huge – ten a game including nearly 3 offensive boards. He will be a 2-way threat with Tatum.

Think of the outlet passes and break starts Bird would give this team to get them up the field. Suddenly you have Jayson Tatum flying down the court with DJ next to him waiting for a dump off and Ray Allen flaring to the corner for the 3. Plus, Bird gives us an instant bucket in the half court if Tatum is starting to slow down a bit.

Another fun thing that comes to mind would be the two man play Bird and Tatum would run. They set screens for each other, played both sides of the PnR and jumped out for the 3 when their instincts deemed it necessary. There are a few versions of Bird that would fit very well next to Tatum, but the intangibles give it to the ’84 Bird.

It’s a really tough call as the Celtics easily have the best PF roster ever on any team. I’ll take the two elite defensive players behind Bird. A modern KG would probably end up shooting 3s at a pretty decent clip and his rim protection would be huge for this team. The same goes for Al Horford, we already know what he and Tatum can do together on both ends of the floor.

Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Center: 1959-60 Bill Russell
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett, Bill Walton

This was easily the biggest debate when coming up with this starting lineup. We need not wax poetic about Bill Russell’s achievements. It’s Bill Russell … BUT, how well would he fit into a modern team next to Jayson Tatum? For me, I think he would struggle a bit with the pace of play, but who cares, I’m getting the best rebounder and shot blocker possible next to Jayson Tatum.

He’s like Robert Williams, but the best possible version of Robert Williams. His only real problem on this team is that he is a pretty terrible FT shooter. The ’59-60 season was his best at 61%, so it could definitely be a problem late in games. We’ll get to the 6th man in a second, but he does a fine job of spelling Russell when needed.

I have KG again as an honorable mention because I just can’t get over the idea of ​​prime Garnett playing next to Tatum. Just too much dog on the field to even think about what a blast it would have been. I also put down Bill Walton; I think his creative passing and timely scoring would be really helpful in this lineup to keep the ball moving.

Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

6th Man: 2017-18 Al Horford, 2016-17 Isaiah Thomas

I don’t normally love big men as a 6th man, but Horford is just too perfect an option. He can spell either Russell or Bird and at any point in the game to provide a different look, but he can also play next to both of them in several different lineups. His ability to stretch the floor and pass is perfect on a team like this and he would be deadly off the bench against 2nd units.

Speaking of deadly against 2nd units, Isaiah Thomas is a perfect backup guard for this team. Defensively we have plenty of coverage for him all over the floor and offensively he would attack mismatches and bad defenders all day long. Clutch shooting, timely passes, Isaiah would light up the stat sheet on a team like this. If DJ was struggling or we wanted a more aggressive look, it’s him.

Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Coach: Brad Stevens

This one is loaded with outrageous recent bias, but if I’m building a team around Jayson Tatum, I want the coach who knows how to get the most out of him. Stevens would make this team a defensive nightmare, and with Tatum and the focal point offensively on the other end, the ATO plays would just be devastating. There are obviously a ton of good coaching options for Boston, but for a team with legends, they need someone who can match their basketball IQ and serve as an extra set of eyes late in games. Stevens would be excellent for a team like this and help round out a great roster.

To sum up:
Point Guard: 1986-87 Dennis Johnson
Shooting Guard: 2010-11 Ray Allen
Small Forward: 2022-23 Jayson Tatum
Power Forward: 1984-85 Larry Bird
Center: 1959-60 Bill Russell
6th Man: 2017-18 Al Horford, 2016-17 Isaiah Thomas
Coach: Brad Stevens

It’s a killer team, but I don’t mean to pat myself on the back. Who would you keep and who would you replace? Let me know on Twitter at @sportstein.

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