I've mentioned a few times recently that I'd never been Tatum's biggest fan. What I really meant by this is that I've always "liked" him just fine, but was very nervous about the possible future max or super-max, because I wasn't sure he was ever going to be worth it, but was pretty sure he was going to get it. Didn't necessarily see "top guy on a title team" anywhere in his future. Basically, I was worried about putting too many of our eggs in his basket, and have probably been among the more willing to trade him of anyone on the board.
I don't change my opinions quickly. I don't think it's that I'm stubborn. I just try really hard not to be reactionary. So I tend to be comfortable taking a ton of time making observations, before coming to a conclusion on, really, anything.
Well, I'm now into the process of changing my mind on Tatum. For the first time ever, I actually see a path to "best player in the league". I'm not going to assign a particularly high probability to that outcome, but, I can see the possibility.
A few more ppg. A small uptick in efficiency. A little extra strength-that-comes-with-age to help him grow into a true lockdown defender. That alone could get him to #1 guy territory, without requiring any particular revolution in his game. And he's got plenty of years to accomplish it.
After that, the leap from "top guy on a true contender" to "best player in the league" would probably require adding some truly new skills, such as somehow becoming a high-level distributor. This is tougher to project with confidence, and these kinds of shifts are probably the least common to happen in reality, but, his trajectory so far at least gives me confidence he's a grinder, and he seems humble, so I feel like he wont rest on his laurels.
But, even if he doesn't accomplish that last bit, what I most want is to have no qualms whatsoever about paying him the supermax. You don't have to be the best player in the league for the supermax to be good value, but, you got to be damned good. If he reaches a level where we all get to feel like the max is a bargain, we're in pretty good shape.
So, a few more ppg. A few more TS%. But most importantly: becoming a guy I can trust to bring it every single night (or at least 9 out of 10). That last is what sets guys apart, imo, and really earns my trust. Like with Pierce, you knew even on his off nights, if he started 1-8, he was usually going to battle back, and by the end of the night you'd look down and his line was somehow solid.
I'm not quite ready to flip full 180. I've got more observing to do. But I am spending a lot more time lately imagining him winning FMVPs for us, than imagining the-guy-we-got-for-him-in-trade doing so.