MIAMI — Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum has said repeatedly over the past year that he felt disrespected by being left off of last year’s All-NBA teams — a decision that cost Tatum tens of millions of dollars on his current contract.
After Tatum was selected to the All-NBA first team Tuesday evening, he said Wednesday ahead of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat that there should be some sort of criteria for voters to follow in making their selections.
“What’s the saying, a day late and a dollar short?” Tatum asked with a wry smile following Boston’s shootaround at FTX Arena. “Obviously, I’m thankful. First-team All-NBA, that’s a big deal. So I’m grateful for that recognition.
“It wasn’t really incentivized for me [to make it last year] with the money and all of that. It was more just I felt kind of disrespected, and I talked about this quite a bit, just on the criteria and how it’s voted is just so wide open … there’s not really set rules on who should qualify.
“I think that was the frustrating part. But it happened. Did I think I was one of the best 15 players last year? One thousand percent. But that’s behind me now, and I made it this year and now we’re trying to win a championship.”
Being left off the list last year caused Tatum to miss out on a provision in his contract that would have bumped his salary up to the next level of a max contract — 30% of the salary cap — as opposed to the 25% that typically falls under rookie extensions under a rule in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement named after Derrick Rose.
This year, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young qualified for that same bump by making the All-NBA third team, while Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns both are now eligible to sign massive four-year supermax contract extensions this summer because they made it.
While Tatum said he wasn’t sure exactly what the criteria should be for voters, he did say he thinks it should go from being by positions (guard, forward and center) to positionless, and he made his point by saying it didn’t make much sense that Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, who finished second to Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in MVP voting, should be a second-team All-NBA player.
The irony is that had the league been positionless with its ballot this year, Tatum would’ve been second team and Embiid would’ve been first.
“There just should be some rules in place,” Tatum said. “I don’t know exactly, but maybe you should have to play a certain amount of games, or maybe you’re a playoff team or not.
“I think it should just be like the 15 best players. Obviously, with some guys in a contract year, supermax deals involved, that’s tough. I’m sure that’s tough on the voters as well. So I think there’s a lot that could be changed in that area, in that regard.”
After Boston disappointed last year, finishing with a .500 record in the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 regular season, Tatum finished just out of the voting. He said the biggest reason for his inclusion this year, besides Boston playing better, was his improved playmaking.
“We won more games than last year,” he said. “But I think playmaking, just being able to read the game a lot better slowed it down for me in a lot of ways. And I think that has shown just with my playmaking ability and running the offense at times.”