The Celtics were the first playoff team to win the lottery, which brought a complication: Some draft prospects and their agents wanted to avoid Boston, which has a deep roster and fewer avenues to immediate playing time.
Lonzo Ball wouldn’t work out for the Celtics, and neither would Josh Jackson. Ball was straightforward all along on his intent to work out for only the Lakers, who ultimately drafted him No. 2.
With Jackson – who was drafted No. 4 by the Suns after Boston took Jayson Tatum No. 3 – it was more convoluted.
Celtics president Danny Ainge, via CSN New England:
Never talked with Josh. No one in our organization did. I know someone wrote that that was difference, but that’s not the case.
They cancelled a workout on us when we flew out to Sacramento, and they just decided to cancel it as we flew – just Brad and I and Mike Zarren 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. You 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.
I was mad. We flew cross-country. Are you kidding me? I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.
There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.
At first glance, this sounds sloppily rude by Jackson and/or his agent, B.J. Armstrong. And maybe it was.
But perhaps there’s more to it? The best professional athletes enter the workforce in conditions unlike anyone else in this country, forced to join whichever single company in their chosen field picks them – the worst companies receiving priority in selection. Players should feel no obligation to help companies in this cartel gather information. Rather, players’ priority should be getting to the company they find most desirable.
Jackson canceling a workout as the Celtics flew to California almost certainly turned them off more than never scheduling the workout in the first place would have. This might have been smart in the long run by Jackson if he didn’t want to go to Boston.
It stinks Ainge, Zarren and Brad Stevens had to deal with it. But it also stinks Jackson has no realistic choice but to participate in a system so unfair to labor.
Still, Ainge responded correctly – trying not to hold the sudden schedule change against Jackson. The Celtics will be better off with the better prospect, whether that’s Jackson or Tatum. If they drafted Jackson, he’d likely get over it. Evaluating Jackson only on what he’d bring to the team is easier said than done, and I’m not sure how well Ainge actually did that. But at least trying to keep that mindset was the right approach.