Well, everybody knows that the Boston Celtics will choose Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in next Thursday’s 2017 NBA draft, and that the Los Angeles Lakers will select Lonzo Ball with the second pick. What this week’s round of rumor-mongering presupposes is … maybe they won’t?
For the bulk of the 2016-17 college basketball season, and the majority of the run-up to Thursday’s draft, pundits and prognosticators have primarily pegged Fultz and Ball as the draft’s top two point guards and top two prospects. After May’s draft lottery, that alignment seemed even more likely, with the top-picking Celtics (thanks again, Brooklyn!) landing the chance to add Fultz’s two-way explosiveness and versatility to Brad Stevens’ roster and the Lakers seeming destined to keep Chino Hills, California, native and UCLA product Ball at home to kickstart a Showtime reboot.
As of Thursday morning, Jonathan Givony and the gang at DraftExpress still have Fultz and Ball going first and second to Boston and LA, same as it’s been. ESPN’s Chad Ford, though, suggests there might be some intrigue coming at the top of the draft:
Josh Jackson, who was No. 1 on Big Board 1.0, has emerged as an intriguing option for the Celtics and team president Danny Ainge (even though he canceled a workout with Boston this week, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman and Marc Spears).
“I’ve picked Danny’s brain for years,” one GM said. “Jackson is an Ainge player all the way. Tough, athletic, long, versatile, elite motor. If he’s keeping the pick, Jackson just to me, far and away, is the most Celtics-type player for them to draft. From all my conversations with them, I’m convinced they’ll take Jackson No. 1.” […]
Fit is a question mark for Jackson as well, with both [2016 No. 3 overall pick] Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder already on the roster. Don’t the Celtics need players with differing skill sets? Isn’t Jackson a bit duplicative, especially given the arrival of Brown last year?
Another GM doesn’t see it that way.
“Jackson will be better than all of those guys [at his position in Boston],” the GM said. “Danny’s looking for a star, and I think Jackson has as much or more star potential than Fultz or Ball. Everyone on the Celtics is an asset. Danny can move them all. He’ll take the player he likes the best. Period. He’ll figure out fit in the summer.”
As Ford’s rumblings about former Kansas wing Jackson being in the mix for No. 1 made their way out into the digital consciousness, interestingly enough, Fultz — who has made it very clear that he wants to play in Boston, alongside fellow former Husky and Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas — was in El Segundo, California, wrapping up a workout with the second-pickin’ Lakers. From Greg Beacham of The Associated Press:
Fultz went through an hour-long private workout for the Lakers on Thursday before meeting with the team’s top brass at their training complex. The Maryland-born University of Washington product is generally expected to be the top pick, but he has stayed in close contact with the Lakers since the draft combine.
“It was a family decision,” Fultz said of his willingness to work out for Los Angeles. “Giving everybody the opportunity. Never know where I might land, so I just wanted to see how it is out here.”
And hey, speaking of “seeing how it is out here,” Ball — who very, very famously has been positioned as only having eyes for the Lakers, and hasn’t really seemed to publicly entertain the possibility of dropping below No. 2 — is now suddenly interested in casting a wider pre-draft conversational net. From Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
Lonzo Ball is still considering talking to teams that have lottery picks below the Los Angeles Lakers, a source close to the former UCLA Bruins star told ESPN.
Ball will work out for the Lakers — who have the No. 2 pick in next week’s NBA draft — a second time Friday at an undisclosed, Los Angeles-area location. He remains hopeful the Lakers will give him some indication whether he has “separated himself” throughout the draft process, the source said, and he has no plans to speak with or work out for the Boston Celtics, who hold the No. 1 pick.
After Friday’s workout, Ball will consider talking to other lottery teams that have asked to speak with him, according to the source.
Under the leadership of new president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, meanwhile, the Lakers reportedly continue to consider all their options with No. 2 — including moving it, according to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
In the month since [the draft lottery], the Lakers have been taking and making calls about trading the pick, said a source who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. Teams have presented trade scenarios to them, and they have offered their own. […]
[In addition to Fultz and Ball,] the Lakers have also worked out Kansas forward Josh Jackson twice. The first workout was in Sacramento and the second at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. They’ve also spent significant time around Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox. The Lakers saw Fox at his Pro Day in Thousand Oaks, at the NBA draft combine in Chicago and in for a workout at the Lakers facility this week.
Unlikely as it seems, you can concoct a scenario in which it makes sense for the Celtics to leap to zag on ’em with the 6-foot-8 Jackson.
Maybe Ainge decides the resolution to his first-world backcourt problem is to keep Isaiah around, continuing to build Boston’s offensive attack around him for the next half-decade while pairing Jackson with Brown in a 21st-century wing tandem. That duo would have the potential to switch defensive assignments, run the floor in transition, chip in on the glass, make plays off the bounce and maybe develop into dangerous individual scoring threats of their own while helping give Boston’s defense the teeth to help compensate for the undersized Thomas’ deficiencies.
If the key to competing with, and eventually supplanting, the league-dominating Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers is figuring out how to match up with and/or emulate them, landing big, like-size wing playmakers who can fill multiple gaps on both ends of the floor seems like a prerequisite. In a vacuum, a 6-foot-4 offensively gifted lead guard like Fultz might be a better prospect than Jackson; such decisions, though, are made in the broader context of team needs and organizational goals, even at the top of the draft.
If that happens, it might be awfully tough for the Lakers to pass on the near-consensus top talent in the draft. If they don’t, concerns about Ball — from his shot mechanics to his fitness to, well, his dad — might rear their ugly heads. Jerry Colangelo, special adviser to the Philadelphia 76ers, who pick third overall, has already expressed some reservations about things being “challenging” for Lonzo “with the people around him, without being specific.” If the Sixers decide to look elsewhere, and the already-backcourt-heavy Phoenix Suns have another option in mind, Lonzo could wind up a few spots south of his widely expected landing spot.
Or … y’know … he won’t.
The most likely situation remains that the Celtics take Fultz, and the Lakers take Ball, and the 76ers face the difficult decision of whether to add another forward (like Jackson or Duke’s Jayson Tatum) to a frontcourt that already features Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric and Robert Covington, or to pull the trigger on a guard like Fox, his former Kentucky teammate Malik Monk or North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. Mock drafting and big-board creation are admittedly imperfect sciences, but there are reasons why the top dudes have been viewed as the top dudes, and the week before the draft has perennially been prime time for teams, agents, analysts and other stakeholders to generate some uncertainty as to who will end up where.
All will be revealed next Thursday. In the meantime, have fun trying to see the future in the flames; just be careful not to breathe in too much smoke.
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