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Jayson Tatum has mixed feelings when he was selected No. 3 overall by the Celtics in the 2017 draft. He wondered if there was room for him, but the Celtics made sure there was. AJ Mast/Associated Press

On a recent episode of the All The Smoke podcast, Jayson Tatum revealed that – prior to the 2017 NBA draft – he wanted to be drafted by the Phoenix Suns, not the Boston Celtics.

According to Tatum, he had mixed feelings when his name was called with the third pick.

“There was a part of me that didn’t really want to go to Boston because they just were the No. 1 team in the East,” Tatum told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. “They had Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, (Marcus) Smart, (Jaylen Brown), Jae Crowder. I was like, ‘Man, I’m not going to play. I’m trying to get buckets.’ But everything worked out.”

Getting everything to work out, however, wasn’t always easy. The summer of 2017 was a massive overhaul for a Celtics team that, during the 2016-17 campaign, became the top seed in the Eastern Conference even though their roster was primarily made up of feel-good stories and scrappy players.

Ironically, the first move the Celtics made that summer further gummed up their roster. On July 4, a few weeks after the draft and a few days after free agency opened, Gordon Hayward announced he planned to sign in Boston. Beyond simple roster constraints, the acquisition of Hayward meant Boston would need to deal one of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart. Outside the organization, many believed Smart – who was due for a contract extension the next summer – was gone, but whispers around the team suggested Bradley was on his way out.

Sure enough, Bradley was the first domino to fall. Boston dealt the shooting guard to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, whose contract was cheaper for the next two years.

While Bradley didn’t play Tatum’s position, the Celtics were becoming a versatile group. Both Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward could play shooting guard, and Brown – who played just 17 minutes per game in his rookie year – wasn’t a guaranteed starter at that point. Trading Bradley and bringing in a player who clearly was meant to come off the bench offered some breathing room.

July continued with little other incident. Boston signed and released Paul Pierce so he could retire a member of the Celtics. The team also acquired Shane Larkin, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis – again, three players who were ticketed for bench roles (even though Baynes and Theis would eventually grow into much more).

That set the table for the big moment: Kyrie Irving to the Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 unprotected draft pick. The trade rocked the league and left Celtics fans conflicted – Irving was singularly talented and one of the league’s best guards, but Thomas had been the definitive fan favorite.

For the Celtics, however, the big trade simplified matters. No less enamored by Tatum after a solid performance at Summer League, Boston saw the 19-year-old as a Day 1 starter even on a team suddenly loaded with All-Star talent. And sure enough, he started 80 regular-season games as a rookie.

By trading Thomas and Crowder, the Celtics finished a teardown of the East’s No. 1 seed the previous season – only Al Horford remained from the starting lineup that claimed Game 7 against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Some of the departed players – such as Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk – weren’t likely to block Tatum anyway, but the Celtics were afforded a completely clean slate.

Tatum slotted into Johnson’s roster spot. Brown stepped in for Crowder. Hayward replaced Bradley. Previously a ragtag group of scrappy castaways, the Celtics had assembled collection of lottery picks and All-Stars, and in doing so, elevated Tatum to an starting role. Everything, as Tatum put it, worked out.

Boston probably didn’t mean to tear down its roster to make room for a rookie, even one as singularly talented as Tatum. At the time, Danny Ainge was still eyeing Anthony Davis to finalize his ideal pairing of Davis and Irving – a duo that could have slipped the Eastern Conference out of LeBron James’ stranglehold if he remained in Cleveland. But, as has been the case at multiple steps in Boston’s journey, a combination of good luck and preparedness put the franchise in a position to succeed.

The Celtics drafted well, and as a result, were ready to pivot when their roster building broke down. Irving walked after the 2018-19 season, and Davis made it abundantly clear that if the Celtics traded for him, he would leave as a free agent.

But Tatum and Brown, hardened by a precocious trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 2018 and by plenty of preparation since, were up for the challenge. Drafting Jayson Tatum was wise. Giving him enough space to grow into his considerable talents, however, may have proven to be the Celtics’ most important foresight.

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