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"What If Jayson Tatum Ended Up in Phoenix Instead of Boston? Exploring the Alternate NBA Universe"


What if Jayson Tatum didn't play in Boston?
Credit - Casey Colton


In 2017, the Boston Celtics and the mastermind behind their roster makeup, GM Danny Ainge made a decision that would alter the NBA landscape as we now know it. Armed with the first overall pick, thanks to some crafty wrangling with the Brooklyn Nets from a previous deal, the Celtics found themselves in a prime spot to improve a team that had just reached the Eastern Conference Finals. 


Coming off of an impressive, yet unsuccessful season at the University of Washington, Markelle Fultz was the talk of the town as the presumed number-one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. While the Huskies were a disappointment, due to the loss of two NBA-ready players the summer before, Fultz held his own with 23.2 points, and nearly 6 assists and 6 boards. How could Ainge pass up a player who can fill the bucket, drop dimes, and potentially be one of the most athletic players on the floor? 


By drafting Fultz, the Celtics would team the young guard with veteran Isaiah Thomas, who despite having re-aggravated a hip injury during the ECF, would eventually be able to return to a lineup that he had led in scoring the previous two seasons. 


To nobody’s surprise, having two ball-dominant guards, plus a rising star in Jaylen Brown on the wing, caused issues for the Celtics. A healthy Fultz would wind up earning All-Rookie First Team honors after averaging 16 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. With the rookie point guard showing he was more than capable of handling the task, Thomas would find himself on the move. 


But what would have become of Duke’s freshman phenom had the Celtics stayed locked in with the first pick?


With the Lakers set on UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball as the second pick, the Sixers would look to adjust their roster by taking the ball out of point/forward Ben Simmons’s hands by adding De’Aaron Fox as their starting point guard. 


As for Jayson Tatum, with the fourth pick, the Phoenix Suns, who were struggling in the Western Conference, were more than happy to pair Tatum with up-and-coming superstar Devin Booker. Torn between selecting Josh Jackson or Tatum, Suns’ coach Earl Watson convinced the rest of the management staff including GM Ryan McDonough to consider Tatum’s smooth offense and defensive potential. 



What if instead of rivals Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker were teammates?
Credit - Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images


Instead of being stuck in the cold confines of Beantown, Tatum found himself heating up in the Valley of the Suns. From step-back threes to alley-oop dunks, the Suns became “Lob City 2.0” with Booker dropping both dimes and bombs from downtown, Tatum finishing above the rim and 2016 draft pick Marquese Chriss becoming a younger paint-protecting version of De’Andre Jordan. 


Although they wouldn’t find playoff success just yet, the Suns’ found themselves slowly climbing the Western Conference standings, adding a young Canadian point guard by the name of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the 2018 Draft. 


With pillars in place at all the right spots, the Suns’ found themselves squaring off against the Golden State Warriors dynasty in the 2021 playoffs. What would unfold was a epic seven-game series featuring Tatum’s lockdown defense and transition scoring, Booker’s midrange game poetry, and SGA’s ability to dissect the Warriors defense. As the team’s would trade baskets, it would ultimately be the now matured Suns who would advance to the NBA Finals, the team’s first since Charles Barkley took on Michael Jordan. 


Squaring off against the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals, Tatum and Booker had blossomed into the league’s premier scoring duo matched up with the equally offensive-minded Milwaukee Bucks in a battle of mirroring strategies. Despite being smaller market teams, the Suns and Bucks series was a spectacle as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday attempted to match the Suns’ high-octane trio basket for basket. A symphony of clutch shots, the series would reach a seventh game, the second straight of the Suns’ playoff run. 


With the score tied and the clock winding down, Tatum would receive the ball on the wing looking at P.J. Tucker in a one-on-one situation as Booker and Gilgeous-Alexander were locked up by Middleton and Holiday. Driving past the defensive-minded bulldog, Tatum’s teardrop floater arched perfectly over the outstretched hand of Bucks’ big man Brook Lopez, falling through the net as the buzzer sounded. 


Much to the dismay of the soldout crowd at Fiserv Forum and to the joy of those watching at the viewing party in Phoenix’s Footprint Center, the Suns had captured their first NBA Championship. At the age of 22, in just his fourth year in the league, Tatum would be not only crowned an NBA Champion, but Finals MVP.

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