Ainge keeps everyone guessingBy STEVE BULPETT
June 21. 2017 8:28PM
NEW YORK — The Celtics were still in the No. 3 draft position as the NBA wheels continued to turn on Wednesday, but as we’ve been reminded in these last trade-filled days, everything can change in a New York minute.
Danny Ainge and Co. were back in Boston plotting strategy and looking to get back in on the transactional fun they kick-started by sending the No. 1 overall pick to Philadelphia.
One NBA exec told the Herald that Ainge would love to find a way to get North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who isn’t rated as high as the third overall pick. Another said the Celts were looking at perhaps moving down in the draft again and picking up another asset for their trouble.
Meanwhile, to give you an idea of how surreal this has all become, a coach from yet another team said that if you asked 10 clubs what Ainge wanted, you’d get 10 different answers. “We call him the minister of disinformation,” he said. “He’s putting a lot of stuff out there.”
Most sources still believe that if the Celtics are still at 3 tonight, their choice will come down to either Kansas’ Josh Jackson or Duke’s Jayson Tatum, both 6-foot-8 forwards — and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac has event crept into the speculation. But Smith enjoyed his recent workout for the Celts.
“It went very well,” he said at Wednesday’s media session with the top draftees in a Manhattan hotel. “I got to meet Danny Ainge, and that was great. Ironically, the Lakers and Celtics rivalry, the 30 for 30, had just came out, so I had a little background with Danny Ainge going into the meeting.
“Danny Ainge was crazy back then, so I had some background info on him. In turn, our meeting went well. I knew something about him; he knew something about me.”
Of Brad Stevens, Smith said, “He knows basketball. He’s younger, so he’s easier to relate to. He’s a great guy, and he seems like he cares about his players.”
Talking about the possibility the Celtics and Ainge could maneuver to get him (for example, Sacramento has the fifth and 10th picks), Smith said, “I know he likes me. I’m a big fan of them; they’re fans of me, so we’ll see how that plays out.”
Jackson addressed his initial refusal to work out for the Celts when they had the top pick and then the failure to set up a session once they had dropped to No. 3.
“OK, so the Celtics originally had the No. 1 pick, and me and my agent, we talked and we just didn’t feel like they had much interest in drafting me at No. 1,” Jackson said. “So we felt like it would be sort of a waste of a time for the both of us for me to go out and work out, and they’re really not considering drafting me. But after they got the third pick, we tried to schedule something for me to get out there, but it was just scheduling issues and it was just a little too late for me to get out there by then.
“I was definitely open to the possibility.”
Jackson said he has spoken with Stevens and some assistant coaches over the phone, but “Danny Ainge himself, I have not spoken with him.”
Asked if he might get that done before the draft, he said, “Possibly. I’m open to it. It would be something me and my agent, we’ll go over and, you know, if it happens, it happens.”
Jackson described the conversation with Stevens as, “Just asking what I bring to the team, how would I feel about playing in Boston and how I see myself fitting in. Stuff like that.”
He added, “I think it’d be great to play in Boston. I see a lot of the players on their team that are about the same things that I’m about. Anybody who knows me knows that I love to win, and I see that in a lot of the guys on their team, so I would love to play in Boston.”
Jackson also spoke on the misdemeanor charge of criminal property damage in relation to a December incident in which he allegedly kicked a car being driven by a Kansas women’s basketball player.
“A lot of the character issues that you guys probably been reading, they’ve really been blown out of proportion a lot,” he said. “Obviously I did a few things wrong that I shouldn’t have done, but, you know, it’s been blown up a lot just because I am who I am. And the people close to the situation, the teams that are considering drafting me that I’ve talked to, they know exactly what’s going on. They know exactly what’s happening, and, you know, it was just a minor mistake.”
Asked what kind of person he is, Jackson said, “I’m a humble guy. I’m a competitor, really a high character guy. They know what I bring to a team. They know I’m competitive and I’m all about winning.”
Tatum wound up having two sessions with the Celtics.
“They went great,” he said. “The first workout, they came and watched me work out. This past Monday, I actually went to Boston and they put me through a workout, and it was great. I got to spend time with Danny Ainge and coach Stevens and the other staff and hang out.”
Of the first request to work out, Tatum said, “I was surprised, because they had the No. 1 pick. But they know more than I do, so when they called me for a workout, I was, ‘Sure.’ I was excited.”
Things had changed by the time Tatum got to town for his latest audition. He was looking to see how he might fit into the Celtics’ plans.
“I talked about that with coach Stevens,” Tatum said, “and he said, you know, guys at my size and my position that are able to hit open shots and defend 1 through 4, it’s hard not to play those guys. So that’s how he looks at me, if they were to draft me.”