Celtics' Jayson Tatum reflects on leadership style, outside criticism

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Tatum's season-ending comments are telling of Celtics star's mindset originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Where does Jayson Tatum go from here?

The Celtics star's unique season of highs and lows ended Tuesday night in Boston's Game 5 loss to the Brooklyn Nets that eliminated them from the playoffs.

Tatum had a team-high 32 points and averaged 30.3 points over the first-round series, capping off the best statistical season of his young career. The 23-year-old set career highs in points (26.4), rebounds (7.4) and assists (4.3) per game and is a candidate to make an All-NBA team for the second consecutive year.

The Celtics stumbled to a 36-36 record, though, and as the team's star player, Tatum drew criticism for a perceived lack of leadership and poor on-court body language.

That criticism clearly stuck with Tatum, who brought up his detractors after Game 5 when asked what lessons he's learned from this season.

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"I've made strides every season. I know that and the coaches and my teammates know that," Tatum told reporters, as seen in the video above. "I know there's a lot of people out there that have their opinions on how I should lead or my demeanor or things like that, and the cool part is that doesn't matter. I get to be myself and not really have to listen to how people think I should lead.

"I know what I bring to this team from that standpoint and how I communicate with guys out there and in the locker room. So, yeah, I've made strides regardless of what people outside think."

Tatum made similar comments prior to the Celtics' play-in tournament win over the Washington Wizards, noting that just because he's not "yelling and screaming" on the court doesn't mean he's not being a leader. He also just finished his fourth NBA season and has plenty of time to evolve as the face of the franchise.

Tatum may have to fast-track that evolution, though. He and Jaylen Brown could be the only two constants on a Celtics roster in flux this offseason after a frustrating campaign, so the C's will look to their two young All-Stars for leadership in 2021-22.

Tatum might take more heat this summer from analysts trying to dissect what went wrong this season, but it sounds like his motivation will come from within.

"When I started playing, it wasn't just to make the NBA. It was to excel at the highest level and be considered one of the best, to be a winner, be a MVP, all those types of things," Tatum said. "So, that's what drives me: the expectations that I have for myself. 

"None of what people on the outside say about me or criticize or don't criticize or say that I should or shouldn't do, that has never played a factor in what drives me. It's always been the goals I've set for myself, the places I know I can get to regardless of what people on the outside say."