Once the Boston Celtics traded down from No. 1 to the third overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, picking up a future first-round pick in the process, their choice seemingly came down to Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson, and Jackson may have made the Celtics’ decision to select Tatum an easier one.
After Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, assistant general manager Mike Zarren and coach Brad Stevens flew cross-country to see Jackson, the Kansas forward canceled their recent scheduled workout. As a result, a Boston team that reached the Eastern Conference finals, needed wing help and owned a top pick never got to meet with Jackson. And Ainge was none too pleased.
“Never talked with Josh,” he told reporters after the draft, via ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg. “No one in our organization did. … They cancelled a workout on us when we flew out to Sacramento, and they just decided to cancel it as we flew — it was Brad and I and Mike Zarren who flew cross-country.
“So, there was something that he didn’t want to play for the Celtics. In spite of that, we’ve watched Josh for two years, and we’re fans. He’s a terrific kid and a good player. So, we tried not to overreact to those kinds of things and make a big deal of it.
“Agents and players have all sorts of motivations to get to certain places, as we’ve seen in the past. Remember last year, Kris Dunn didn’t want to come here; we didn’t hold it against him. We felt like we were just taking the player that we wanted, and I think the same thing this time. I don’t think we were trying to penalize Josh too much, but we didn’t get to see him or talk to him face-to-face.”
After flying from Boston to Sacramento, only to learn midway through the flight that their efforts were fruitless, the Celtics brass hopped on the first flight home the next morning. That’s a rookie mistake by the 20-year-old Jackson. And if you spent 24 hours flying cross-country for no reason, spending a night in Sacramento, waking up at dawn and flying cross-country again, you wouldn’t be happy, either.
“No, no, no. Well, there were thoughts, yeah, I was mad,” Ainge added of whether that impacted their decision. “We flew cross-country. Are you kidding me? I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.”
The Celtics invited Jackson for a workout both before and after Monday’s pick-swap with Philadelphia, but the explosive wing claimed on Wednesday he thought they were set on selecting Markelle Fultz at No. 1 overall, and once they moved down to No. 3, “by then it was too late” to schedule a workout.
ESPN’s Allison Williams asked Jackson if he thought not working out for Boston affected his selection:
“Maybe a little,” he said on the broadcast, “bit but you know, I’m here today, I’m happy, and you know I’m glad to be a Phoenix Suns now.”
In the green room afterwards, he told reporters, “Well, the only team I didn’t work out for at the top of the draft was the Celtics, and that was due to scheduling. I was excited to be on any team at the top of the draft, to be honest, whether it was Philly, Boston, L.A. [Lakers]. I felt like the type of player that I am, I could fit anywhere. But when I look at Phoenix and I see that they are so young and kind of need a 3, somebody to come in and play that 3 spot, and I feel like that’s my favorite position to play — that’s where I’m the most comfortable — I automatically just get excited when I see stuff like that.”
Ainge did not seem convinced Jackson was all that excited about playing for the Celtics, suggesting “players have all sorts of motivations to get to certain places,” and Jackson may just have given us that reason. In Boston, he would be sharing minutes on the wing with Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown, not to mention if the Celtics succeed in signing free-agent forward Gordon Hayward this summer.
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, Jackson will compete with ever-improving young forward T.J. Warren and uber-athletic slam dunk contestant Derrick Jones Jr. for minutes. Perhaps that gave him more confidence.
Either way, Ainge insisted the C’s would have taken Tatum regardless of Jackson’s canceled workout, just as they took Brown over Dunn a year ago. In addition to joining a contender, Tatum is slotted to earn $1.2 million more over his first three years on the rookie salary scale than the fourth pick.
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