akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

BOSTON — When does high praise end and gamesmanship begin? Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd, whether he meant for some of his laudatory words to be interpreted as more than what appeared on the face, just ignited a discussion that many who follow the Boston Celtics have wondered aloud and otherwise for a number of years.

The latest memorable era of Boston Celtics basketball has been spearheaded for the past 7-8 years by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two All-NBA caliber players who led Boston to its second NBA Finals appearance in the last three years and, after Thursday’s victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, just three wins away from a championship. The multiple near-misses in the postseason and undeniable tension thick in the air of a city with high expectations has called into question the relationship of the Celtics’ dynamic duo, especially whether both can coexist long enough to see through their shared vision of winning the Larry O’ Brien Trophy together in Boston. What is certain, however, is that both Brown and Tatum are, undoubtedly, two of the best players in the sport.

According to Kidd, there’s no doubt which of the two is a better player.

“Well, Jaylen is their best player,” Kidd said during the Practice Day press conference before Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Saturday afternoon, describing what makes Brown hard to go against. “Just looking at what he does defensively, he picked up Luka full court. He got to the free throw line. He did everything, and that’s what your best player does. Just understanding he plays both sides, defense and offense, at a high rate. And he’s been doing that the whole playoffs. I mean, when talk about the Eastern Conference MVP, and it seems like he has continued to pick up where he left off.”

On the surface, everything Kidd said was on-point and logical. Though Tatum has been voted to the All-NBA First Team three times, Brown’s contributions to the team on both ends of the floor over the past number of years makes him both under-appreciated and overshadowed. Brown might be the Celtics best all-around player.

But the doubling down of asserting Brown being the Celtics best player might be the latest no-look-pass sleight of hand from the former point guard in Kidd, who surely is fully aware of the delicate Tatum-Brown dynamic.

After all, it’s been Brown that has been at the center of trade rumors over the years as observers believed Boston would benefit from a second superstar and that Brown would be the perfect chip to throw into the middle of the table for that to happen. Off the court, Tatum is involved in endorsements, commercials, creating his own brand and being a father to his son, Deuce. Brown, a vice president of the NBA Players’ Association, uses his platform to be social and education activist, along with being a business owner. Despite being inextricably linked since Brown entered the league in 2016 and Tatum a year later, they live in different worlds off the court. And since this partnership has yet to bring a title to Boston, the narrative has gone that Boston won’t make that quantum leap until the pair is split up.

But with the Celtics so close to dispelling those notions, Brown, for his part, is looking well beyond whatever storylines are penned (this article included) about the soap opera that may or may not be present with Boston’s dynamic duo.

“I’m not sure. I’m not sure. But we’ve been just extremely focused on what our roles and our jobs are,” Brown said when asked why Kidd would make it a point of saying Brown is Boston’s best player. “We have all had to sacrifice. Jason (Kidd) has had to do that at the highest of levels, right, and I respect him and tip his cap for it. Right now, at this point, it’s whatever it takes to win and we can’t let any outside interpretations try to get in between us.”

Tatum, normally reserved and cautious with his comments to the media, did acknowledge the continuing fodder in the media about the relationship between he and Brown, and it’s been beneficial for the two to not ignore that elephant in the room — and grow from it as well.

“Yeah, we’ve had conversations about it before. In all reality, we’ve just had to deal with it for a very long time,” Tatum said. “I think it’s part of us maturing as men, right. Very, very young coming into this league, and just had to deal with all the ups and downs of, essentially, the success that we’ve had. There’s been positive things and there’s been negative things that come with that. We are not the first duo to go through that process, and we won’t be the last. So understanding that side of it, and just keeping the main thing the main thing, and focusing on the job that we have front of us.”

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday’s Practice Day, with photos taken by ALOST staff photographer Erica Denhoff. After clicking on a photo to enlarge the picture, press the left and right arrow buttons on either side of the caption to scroll through the rest of the pictures that appear on the first page. Also, click on the numbers and/or arrow appearing immediately below the picture grid to load the next set of photos. There are 24 pictures in total.

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Tags : Boston CelticsDallas MavericksJaylen BrownJayson TatumNational Basketball AssociationNBANBA Finals

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