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Brad Stevens discusses Tatum’ MVP candidacy and Joe Mazzulla’s coaching


Jayson Tatum’s MVP credentials have been a topic for debate since returning from the All-Star break. The National Media is discussing it. All of the major debate shows have had popular segments on it. And, as you would expect, the discourse is neverending on social media.

On Wednesday, Brad Stevens shared his thoughts on Tatum’s MVP candidacy during an interview with WEEI’s Gresh and Fauria.

“Jayson has been a stud ever since he came into the league,” Stevens said. “Obviously, you knew that it was going to be a path of growth that he was going to take because he takes care of himself. He has a routine. He works really hard. You know, all of those types of things. He should be in any conversation. Listen, there are great players all over the league. And, like I’ve said when I voted for All-Star stuff when I was coaching, the winning part really matters.”

Unfortunately, in a world full of highlight reels and box score analysis, Tatum’s all-around game and team-first approach appear to hinder his candidacy, so much so that even Draymond Green has accused the media of moving the goalposts on the five-time All-Star.

For Stevens, the additional scrutiny of Tatum’s production is due to his incredible success throughout his young career. Boston’s President of Basketball Operations also sees the criticism Jaylen Brown receives as being part of the same train of thought.

“Because of how far they’ve been, there’s going to be more scrutiny. There’s going to be more eyes and all the stuff that comes with that. That’s just part of it,” Stevens said. “So, if he’s held to a different standard, it’s because he set the bar for it.”

Regardless of what standard you’re holding Tatum to, there’s no denying he’s having an elite season. His playmaking and rebounding have both taken a leap. His willingness to attack the rim and embrace contact has improved. He’s manipulating defenses. He’s locking in on the defensive end. And he’s doing it all while allowing others to shine.

Yet, if you listen to any of Tatum’s interviews or his comments during media availabilities, he’s been steadfast in his belief that team success comes before any individual awards or accolades. He’s about to turn 26. There’s plenty of time for those awards later in his career. Right now, the goal is to win a championship. In truth, a ring is what will change the narrative surrounding Tatum, whether we like it or not.

Stevens’ understands what MVP voting means to fans. However, he doesn’t believe the award holds the same weight within the Celtics organization, at least not this season.

“This is a huge talking point outside of our building, [but] t’s not a huge talking point in our building. We’re very focused on just trying to get better. We all want to be the last team standing. We all know there’s a lot in front of us to do that. He’d be the first to tell you, and I don’t pay attention to everything he says in the media, but I’m guessing that he would be the first to tell you that for him, it’s about winning in June.”

When you’re at Tatum’s level, creating a legacy is what’s most important. Legacy begins with championships. Once he’s over that hump, he can begin looking to fill in the gaps of his resume. Fortunately, Tatum has one of the rapidly rising coaches in the NBA in his corner.

Joe Mazzulla was often discredited last season. His over-emphasis on the three-point line, prickly personality with the media, and seeming unwillingness to call timeouts made him a target of both the media and the fanbase. This year’s been different, though. Armed with his own coaching staff, Mazzulla is rapidly winning over his doubters. He’s instilling a versatile offensive and defensive system. Most importantly, though, he’s winning and winning often.

Stevens elevated Mazzulla from his role as an assistant coach after Ime Udoka was suspended for breaching organizational policy. During his interview, he revealed what led him to make that decision.

“Boy, I’ve known him for a long time. He joined our G League staff in, like, 2014 or 2015. He was in the locker room next to us as a player in the final four in 2010. When Butler and West Virginia were both there. I used to do a roundtable with 50 college coaches and people from different industries who would come in and speak for 36 hours in the early fall so that we could all kind of get our wheels turning and start a season. And he was one of the young coaches that had caught everybody’s attention that we invited to speak and we all left blown away even more.”

The circumstances that Mazzulla inherited weren’t conducive to winning. Yet, he rolled with the punches. He adapted. Over time, he’s begun to be more comfortable in his role and all that comes with it. Now, we’re seeing what he’s capable of doing. He’s organizing the team and disseminating his vision. And he’s leading in his own way.

“Listen, he’s an ultra competitor. He is a lifelong learner. He’s not afraid. He’s got a lot of the great qualities that you need to be a good coach. He’s really good on both sides of the ball…He’s good at galvanizing the room. He knows the game on both ends of the floor. He sees the game in real-time, which I think is an important thing.”

Outside of a catastrophe, Boston’s position as the first seed in the Eastern Conference is secure. Tatum’s performance will ensure he’s in the discussion for the MVP award this season — although it’s unlikely he will receive enough votes to be the eventual winner. Still, with Mazzulla’s system working and multiple star talents sacrificing for the team, a championship appears to be on the horizon. Maybe then, Tatum and Mazzulla can start getting the credit they deserve.

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