Why Damian Lillard's possible availability should make the Celtics nervous about Jayson Tatum


Damian Lillard’s possible availability could be a godsend for the Celtics. But it also might be a harbinger of what’s to come with their own superstar who’s recently signed a super max extension.

There’s no guarantee Jayson Tatum will stay in Boston, regardless of what his contract says.

The speculation surrounding Lillard’s status started immediately following the Trail Blazers’ first round exit last Thursday. Afterwards, the six-time All-Star said the organization needs to make changes. “I mean, we didn’t win a championship, so obviously where we are now isn’t good enough,” he told reporters. “I don’t know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as is, it wasn’t good enough. We came up short against a team without their starting point guard and shooting guard.”

Lillard followed up his commentary with a cryptic post on Instagram.

Portland fired head coach Terry Stotts last week, but possesses limited cap room to improve its roster. That means Lillard could push for a fresh start elsewhere, even though he inked a super max extension in 2019 worth $196 million over four seasons. The deal doesn’t even begin until next season.

Still, teams are “intensely monitoring” Lillard’s availability, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. The Celtics could be one of those clubs. Exciting, right?

Not so fast. While star players routinely ask for trades towards the end of their deals, there is a growing phenomenon of NBA All-Stars engineering their exits with years left on their contracts. Anthony Davis had a couple of years remaining when he demanded a trade out of New Orleans, and James Harden was just one year into a four-year commitment when he forced his way out of Houston.

That brings us to Tatum, who agreed to a five-year extension worth $195 million last November.  With that in mind, it’s easy to dismiss the possibility that Tatum could request a trade any time soon.

But Trail Blazers fans were probably saying similar things about Lillard. Now, he might be the hottest commodity on the trade market.

Last week, Tatum engaged in some social media flirting with Kevin Durant, who said on his podcast it was an “honor” to play against him.

With a player option for 2022, Durant is only tied to the Nets for one more season. Could he make the pitch to Tatum about coming to Brooklyn and being his heir apparent? He would get to play with Kyrie Irving again.

It’s a possibility, and depending on the state of the Celtics, Tatum could listen. For NBA stars, years remaining on contracts are just numbers on paper.