Is there actually a chance the Celtics won't draft Markelle Fultz?

Alex Reimer
June 16, 2017 - 12:19 pm

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics have been linked to Washington point guard Markelle Fultz ever since they landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft last month. Their marriage seemed increasingly inevitable in the ensuing weeks, when Fultz told ESPN he thinks he would "fit well" in Boston. 

But now, with the draft coming up next Thursday, that's beginning to change. An anonymous general manager told ESPN's Chad Forde this week he thinks the Celtics will select Kansas forward Josh Jackson with the No. 1 overall selection instead. Adding to the confusion is the uncertainty surrounding UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, who was previously pegged for his hometown Lakers. While Los Angeles is reportedly bringing him in for a second workout, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne says he's thinking about talking with other lottery teams. 

There's always a lot of misinformation in the days leading up to the draft. All parties involved –– players, agents, teams –– have an incentive to create palace intrigue. But given Danny Ainge's history of draft night unpredictability, it's worth paying attention to. Could Boston really walk away from Fultz, the consensus No. 1 pick, and shock the NBA landscape?

Would Josh Jackson fit with the Celtics? 

The anonymous NBA GM who spoke with Forde seems adament the Celtics are going to draft Jackson. "I've picked [Ainge's] brain for years," he 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."

It's difficult to see where Jackson, a lanky 6-foot-8 forward, would fit on the Celtics. The C's selected Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 pick last year, and he provides much of what Jackson does. 

Then again, traditional guard/forward positions in the NBA are now a fixture of the past. Fultz would be redundant on the Celtics, too, since Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are also on the roster. If Ainge thinks Jackson is the best player in the draft, it's unlikely Brown's presence would cause the Celtics to pick somebody else. 

Ainge often bucks conventional wisdom 

Much like Bill Belichick, Ainge isn't afraid to go against the grain. Remember, Ainge reportedly would've taken Kevin Durant No. 1 overall in 2007, not Greg Oden, who was viewed as the consensus top pick at the time. 

The choice to select Brown last year was surprising as well, as the Celtics were linked to Providence point guard Kris Dunn in the weeks leading up to the draft. As it turns out, Ainge made the right move. Brown turned himself into a solid rotational player down the stretch, whereas Dunn averaged three points per game with the Timberwolves. 

The Lonzo Ball X-Factor

It no longer appears to be a foregone conclusion that Ball will wind up with the Lakers, which complicates the top of the draft board. Los Angeles is reportedly thinking about trading the pick to the Suns, who are slotted at No. 4 overall, in exchange for a 2018 first-rounder. Ball almost certainly wouldn't wind up with the Lakers under that scenario. 

With all of these potential moving parts, Ainge could pull off a trade –– especially if he doesn't have a clear preference between Fultz and Jackson. The 76ers, who are in possession of the No. 3 pick, may have an incentive to move up. 

The 'Jackson guarnatee' 

A Phoenix radio host tweeted this week that a team with one of the three top picks has guaranteed Jackson it will pick him. The Celtics probably didn't, which means it was either the Lakers or 76ers. 

This might explain Boston's reported interest in Jackson. From a leverage standpoint, it makes sense for Ainge to float out the possibility that he may pick Jackson first. It could cause the Lakers or 76ers to panic, and trade up for the No. 1 overall selection –– and overpay in the process. The possibility remains that Ainge could deal the pick and wind up with Fultz, anyway.  

It seldom makes sense for a team to lock themselves into one particular player in the days leading up to the draft. While it remains likely the Celtics will stay at No. 1 and pick Fultz, the other options can't be discounted. Ainge has a full hand to play. It would be foolish if he didn't explore all options. 


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