NBA Draft

NBA mailbag: Latest trade rumors on Ben Simmons

Opening up the Mailbag while wondering why Lance Stephenson ever played anywhere but Indiana …

Where do you stand on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown? Break them up? Keep building around them? Something has to change [in Boston]. —Stephen, Braintree, Mass.

Breaking up the Tatum/Brown pairing never made any sense to me. Doing it would mean trading Brown and how many available stars would you swap him for? Domantas Sabonis? Nope. CJ McCollum? Nuh uh. I wouldn’t swap Brown for Ben Simmons, not with all the questions surrounding Simmons right now (more on that below). Injuries have limited Brown to 26 games this season but he’s averaging 24 points in them, including a shade under 30 in his last five games.

Besides, the suggestion that Tatum/Brown’s games don’t mesh well ignores the fact that they have. In four seasons together the Celtics have advanced to two conference finals, pushing the LeBron James–led Cavs to seven games in 2018, Tatum’s rookie year. That’s not a championship, but it’s something. Boston’s net rating with the two on the floor isn’t overwhelming, but to me that’s more about the roster around them than any fundamental issue with Tatum/Brown.

Think about it: Where would the Celtics be if Kemba Walker’s knee issue didn’t sabotage his run in Boston halfway through his first season? Or if Lonzo Ball, a player the Celtics liked a lot last summer, was in green instead of Chicago red? Marcus Smart is extremely valuable, but he’s probably best suited for the Swiss Army knife role he played in recent years, not as a primary playmaker. Or if any one of the young shooters—Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard—was ready to play a bigger role? The priority in Boston isn’t splitting up Tatum and Brown, it’s finding the right pieces to complement them. And it should be.

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