Celtics' Jayson Tatum says NBA players in contract years 'putting a lot on the line'

Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said he fought to protect players who are approaching potentially lucrative contract extensions or free agency after this season during discussions between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

"[There's] a lot of guys in my situation; a lot of guys are going to be free agents," Tatum said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "... We've been off for four months, not being able to be in the facility. Obviously, we're supposed to stay at home and not having the normal access that we would have to the training facility or the weight room or the gym. And then, [we're] kind of being asked to ramp up and pick it back up at such a rapid pace and go down there and play. Guys are putting a lot on the line."

He was one of several players involved in discussions between the league and the union about how to restart the season during the coronavirus pandemic. The group also included NBPA president Chris Paul, Rockets star Russell Westbrook, Raptors star Kyle Lowry and Mavericks center Dwight Powell.

Tatum, a third-year forward who made his first All-Star Game in February, is one of several young stars from the 2017 draft class -- including Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, Heat center Bam Adebayo and Kings guard De'Aaron Fox -- who will be eligible to sign contract extensions this fall.

Wizards forward Davis Bertans, who has twice torn his ACL in his right knee, chose to opt out of the league's restart in Orlando, Florida, because of concerns about his health. Bertans, who averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game and shot over 42% from 3-point range, is going to be an unrestricted free agent this fall.

Tatum acknowledged players who either are approaching an extension or free agency are taking a risk by entering the bubble and playing.

"Nothing is guaranteed," Tatum said. "No matter if they say, 'You're young enough, no matter what you're still getting paid.' I think it's still putting a lot on the line. I know a lot of people won't really care that much because they feel like we make so much money, which is true, but ... I understand guys like Bertans that decided to sit out because he has dealt with injuries, and he was looking to get paid this summer.

"I mean, it makes sense. Everybody has their own reasons for not playing, and I don't fault anybody. It's a tough decision to go through. But yeah, I was voicing for them to make some type of adjustment that could give some guys some stability going into this time that's so uncertain."

While the league and the union did discuss potential remedies to the situation, including the possibility of creating "loss of value" insurance policies, ultimately there was only an agreement for players taking part in the restart to be covered by disability insurance.

Tatum said that agreement didn't do much to influence his decision to play, saying the biggest concern he had was having to spend significant time away from Deuce, his 2½-year-old son.

"I saw that there were reports out there that said I wasn't going to play because of my contract, and then I saw reports that said that was a lie," Tatum said. "I never talked to anybody about that or said I was or wasn't going to play because of my contract. ... I knew [people] would assume I didn't want to play because I didn't want to risk losing out on that contract. And that would be insensitive, especially during this time when so many people have to file for unemployment, for me to be worried about 'X' amount of dollars.

"So that didn't have anything to do or sway if I was going to play or not. For me, the main concern was just being away from my son. That's what was most important to me, and if I was or wasn't going to play."

Tatum said he didn't make his final decision until the past few days. The fact he has never been away from his son for more than a couple weeks -- and now will be away for nearly two months -- was the biggest thing that weighed on his mind.

"There's a multitude of reasons why I wasn't comfortable," Tatum said. "... [I'm] still not excited about it, not thrilled. Obviously, what we're fighting for [in society], against racism and social injustice and [for] equality. Obviously the virus is still very well and alive and continues to rise in Florida.

"For me, just being away from my son for two or three months, that's what's really bothering me. ... Especially when they're that young -- their growth, they change every week. Just knowing I'm going to miss out on that. Missing my mom, my family. It's been tough."

Now that he's committed to going, Tatum said he has one goal in mind.

"If we're going to go down there, we might as well try to win a championship," he said.