The June 22 NBA Draft feels as set, at least on its opening picks, as any in recent memory: Markelle Fultz will go to the Celtics at No. 1, then Lonzo Ball to the Lakers at No. 2. But a week out, everyone is doing their darndest to cast some doubts.
This always happens, and I think it’s as much a product of the media having too much time on its hands and talking itself into longshot possibilities as much as it is a function of teams actively smokescreening their intentions to see if anyone’s willing to wow them with a trade offer. And while it’s exhausting and maybe not particularly constructive to hang on every leak and every report, it’s worth putting a finger to the wind.
The very first domino is Boston’s first pick, and here’s a potentially wild report from Chad Ford, who speaks to an unnamed NBA GM who says he’s “convinced” the Celtics are going to take Kansas’s Josh Jackson at No. 1. The GM says Jackson is exactly Danny Ainge’s type of player, and that from his conversations with Ainge, he believes the Celtics will buck the conventional wisdom and go with Jackson.
I don’t believe it—you shouldn’t believe anything this time of year, since a whole lot of people with a whole lot of competing interests have stakes in putting bad information out there—but all the prospects have to wonder, to say nothing of the teams picking behind the Celtics. To that end, the Lakers, who presumably would just select whoever’s left from the Fultz-Ball duo, would actually have to make a choice if they’re both still there. So at their request, Fultz worked out for the Lakers yesterday.
“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.”
Fultz said he wants to go No. 1—either to Boston or to any team that swoops in to obtain the top pick—but he also said he hasn’t ruled out working out for other teams in the coming days. He might be the consensus No. 1 pick, but there’s a fairly realistic scenario in which he doesn’t go top 2.
All of this clouds Lonzo Ball’s future potentially even more. He’s made no secret he’d like to stay home and play for the Lakers, but they might not be able to resist Fultz if he’s there. Ball is going to have a second workout with the Lakers today, and the team reportedly wants to examine his “work ethic,” whatever that means.
With the potential uncertainty swirling (and damn it, I’ve almost talked myself into weirdness happening just over the course of writing this blog), Ball now needs to keep selling himself to the team that looked like a sure thing to draft him. He sounds eager for clarity: This ESPN report says Ball is hoping for a sign from the Lakers that he’s “separated himself” from other potential draft picks. But just in case, he may talk with other lottery teams as well.
That might not be coming. Another ESPN report from last week indicated a split in the Lakers’ front office, that seemed to hint that Ball-to-L.A. was only a fait accompli among the previous administration. But now that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are out and Magic Johnson is in, there is a faction of the front office that likes Josh Jackson or Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox.
Let’s all take deep breaths. The Celtics will probably take Markelle Fultz. Then the Lakers will probably take Lonzo Ball, though they have every reason to convince teams picking after them that they won’t, in the hopes that one of those teams panics and trades up to get the guy they want. But there’s always an outside chance this smoke has fire, and that’s just enough uncertainty to stress out the players and the teams involved, and allow us to have a good time with imagining the possibilities. It’s a very silly week on the NBA calendar, but it’s certainly a fun one.