Jayson Tatum revealed Tuesday morning that he is still feeling the lingering effects of COVID-19.
“I think it messes with your breathing a little bit," he said after the team's shoot-around before facing the Denver Nuggets later tonight. "I have experienced some games where, I don't want to say struggling to breathe, but you get fatigued a lot quicker than normal. Just running up and down the court a few times it's easier to get out of breath or tired a lot faster. I've noticed that since I've had COVID. It's just something I'm working on, it's gotten better since the first game I played, but I still deal with it from time to time.”
On top of that, Tatum has seen an uptick in minutes, playing 38 or more minutes six times since returning. He's currently averaging 35.3 minutes per game. Tatum says he's been talking to the medical staff and coaches about how he's been feeling.
"It’s something that we’ve talked about," he said. "And it’s not like every game where I feel it the whole game. It’s just certain stretches where breathing is a little out of whack... It’s gotten better obviously from the first game I came back and played. I guess it’s just a long process. I’ve talked to other guys that have had it and they say they experienced the same thing and it kind of just gets better over time. But as much as we play, I guess it takes a little bit longer."
It seems a bit ridiculous to be pushing Tatum too hard this soon after the COVID diagnosis. Stevens touched on this topic before the Washington Wizards game.
"You’re always thinking as a coach, just like every other decision like, what happens when a guy comes back," he said. "Like, what is the fatigue going to be like? What’s the underlying conditions? Are we double-sure that we checked every heart test right? It’s unsettling. It’s uncertain. I’m glad the numbers are going down both nationally and in our league, but I think that it’s important to remain as vigilant as possible because it’s not a settling feeling to be operating under these circumstances."
Still, Tatum is being pushed hard and his production is suffering. He's shooting 35.2% over his past 5 games and averaging 20.4 points while being a -4.2. Tatum lineups rarely fall into the negative, so when they do it's time for a reevaluation.
Stevens probably needs to consider paring back his minutes and consider Tatum's long-term health, even if it leads to a couple more losses. The team's goal is to be ready for the playoffs and those are a long way off. Pushing Tatum now feels overly risky.
Further, this highlights the absurdity of this season and forcing these players to not only play during a pandemic, but to put their own health and well-being on the line. Boston's February schedule is a result of the NBA's overzealous attempts to get back on schedule almost immediately, and cramming in games like this and putting pressure on teams that lead to poor decisions.
The San Antonio Spurs are the latest team to experience an outbreak, and today Atlanta's mayor begged people not to visit her city as the NBA puts on an All-Star game. The league is so hellbent on recouping every last penny as soon as possible that it is tossing good sense by the wayside.
Players like Tatum are the ones paying the price. The only hope is that this isn't a long-term breathing issue for players who have contracted COVID-19. Because if it is, then whatever money the league has pulled together could be paid out in lawsuits when players realize their careers were permanently altered by the NBA's string of ill-advised decisions.