Jayson Tatum: ‘Next Man Up’ as the Hits Keep Coming for the Boston Celtics

Lost in all the Ime Udoka news last week was another blow to the Boston Celtics. Center Robert Williams III, who just had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, will be sidelined longer than expected. Boston’s center position is thin at best.

With Williams out, the Celtics have a 36-year-old Al Horford, who is more of a power forward, and a pair of inexperienced players in Luke Kornet and Mfiondu Kabengele. Kornet has been in the NBA for five seasons but hasn’t spent a lot of time on the court.

Depth at the 5 is a problem in Boston, and Celtics star Jayson Tatum recently addressed the issue, while throwing in a jab at his good friend Grant Williams.

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics off to a rough start

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics addresses the media during Boston Celtics Media Day at High Output Studios on September 26, 2022, in Canton, Massachusetts. | Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images.

It’s been a rough go for the Celtics, and the regular season is still three weeks away. Fresh off an NBA Finals appearance for the first time in 12 years, the Celtics were riding high in the offseason.

Boston’s biggest problem during their postseason run was its lack of depth. The Celtics went eight deep for most of the playoffs, but Brad Stevens quickly addressed the issue in the offseason. Stevens traded for veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon without messing with any of the core pieces. He then added veteran Danilo Gallinari to help provide scoring off the bench.

Then things quickly changed for the Celtics. Gallinari tore his ACL and is expected to miss the season. The Celtics suspended Udoka for the season for “violating organizational guidelines.” Now Williams isn’t expected to resume basketball activities for 8-to-12 weeks after his procedure.

The Celtics went through a season’s worth of problems before training camp began. Entering his sixth season, Tatum knows he has to be the leader of a group that will be under the direction of 34-year-old interim coach Joe Mazzulla. Tatum’s leadership skills have been questioned in the past, mainly because of his laid-back personality.

“I might not be the loudest guy, especially in front of the camera,” he recently told reporters, per CLNS Media. “But to the guys in the locker room, when we’re in practice, on the plane, or on the court, my presence is felt.

“We all put a lot into this game, and we all have the right to give input to each other. That’s all I try to do when I see something,”

Tatum: ‘Next man up’ with Williams out

Although they’ve had a rough couple of weeks, the Celtics certainly had their problems last year. For the first 50 games, they underachieved under Udoka, going 25-25. Things clicked by the end of January, and they closed out the season with a 26-6 mark.

The Celtics could experience the same early struggles under Mazzulla and without Robert Williams. Tatum was asked how things might look at center without the man they call Time Lord.

“Tough,” Tatum said. “Obviously, Rob is one of the best in the league at his position. We gotta figure it out. Plug and replace. Next-man-up mentality. Hold it down until they get back.

“We’ve known Luke for a while. He’s been here. (Kabengele) is an extremely active, physical lob threat.”

Tatum even spoke about Grant Williams, a tough, physical player who matched up with Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo at times in the playoffs.

“Grant, kinda short but competes, big-bodied,” Tatum said. “We know what Grant is going to give us every night.”

The Celtics are eager to make another run at a championship, but the hits keep on coming.

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