Danny Ainge

Suns May Have Pushed Josh Jackson To Cancel Celtics Workout

There are rumblings out of Boston that the Suns may have encouraged Josh Jackson to skip his workout with the Celtics so he would be available for Phoenix with the fourth pick.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE passes along the theory that Suns GM Ryan McDonough, who spent 10 years in the Celtics’ organization, was behind Jackson’s decision to cancel a scheduled session with the team in Sacramento. McDonough joked about the situation Friday in Jackson’s introductory press conference, but later offered hints that there might be some truth to the allegations.

“Look, it is a competition,” he told reporters. “The Celtics were ahead of us at No. 3 and they could have selected whoever they wanted to. I think they got a very good player in Jayson Tatum, but that doesn’t mean [Jackson’s agent] B.J. [Armstrong] and I and … other members of my staff couldn’t talk and try to formulate the best plan to get a player we were really high on to a place we felt he really wanted to go and would be a great fit for him.”

McDonough pointed out that it wouldn’t violate any NBA rules if he and Armstrong had worked together to steer Jackson to Phoenix.

The Boston contingent, made up of president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, coach Brad Stevens and assistant GM and team counsel Mike Zarren, didn’t find out about the cancellation until their plane landed in Sacramento, which sparked some anger toward Jackson.

“Flew across the country, are you kidding me? I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home,” Ainge said.

Jackson claimed he had a phone conversation with Stevens this week, but Ainge said on draft night that no one in the organization had direct contact with the Kansas forward, Blakely relays in a separate story. Some believe Jackson was bitter that the Celtics didn’t give him serious consideration when they had the No. 1 pick and he didn’t want to join the team after it traded back to No. 3.

“There was something that he didn’t want to play for the Celtics,” Ainge added.

Atlantic Notes: Jackson, Ainge, Raptors, Nets, Sixers

After much speculation, the Knicks ultimately decided to select French point guard Frank Ntilikina with the eight pick in the NBA Draft. Names like Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk — both of whom were still available when the Knicks were on the clock — were bypassed in favor of the athletic guard.

As Ian Begley of ESPN writes, team president Phil Jackson spoke about New York’s highly-debated selection and the ability that made the 18-year-old a must-have prospect.

“We like the size of this young man, we like his aptitude for the game, athleticism, actually the ability to incorporate himself in a winning type of a situation,” Jackson said.

New York used its 44th pick on Houston’s Damyean Dotson and its 58th pick on Serbian guard Ognjen Jaramaz. Under Jackson, the Knicks have emphasized selecting European talent and college seniors; with the team looking to build aorund young talent, it’s likely that the 2017 draft picks — particularly Ntilikina — get decent looks next season.

Here are additional notes from around the Atlantic Division:

  • Per Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (via Twitter), the Raptors tried trading up in the draft to select OG Anunoby but were pleasantly surprised when he was still available come the 23rd pick.
  • On a similar note, the Nets liked Michigan’s D.J. Wilson and tried trading up, but did not have the assets to do so, according to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk (via Twitter). Wilson was taken 17th overall by the Bucks.
  • Despite rumors linking the Celtics to Jimmy Butler, general manager Danny Ainge told reporters, including ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, that no recent discussions to acquire the former Bulls All-Star happened.
  • Per Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly (via Twitter), all of the Sixers‘ international picks are expected to stay overseas next season.
  • After drafting Markelle Fultz this year, Ben Simmons last year, and assembling a drove of young talent, now is the time for Sixers head coach Brett Brown to put together a winning product, Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Cooney writes.

Celtics Notes: Ainge, Fultz, Tatum, Theis

Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, has risked his legacy by trading the top pick in this year’s draft, writes Chris Mannix of The Vertical. Mannix points out that Ainge gave up Markelle Fultz, a player who scouts seem unanimously sold on, for a chance at Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum, who play the same position as Boston’s first pick from last year, Jaylen Brown. Ainge may be preparing for a larger deal, but the Pelicans seem to have no desire to move Anthony Davis, and the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler or the Pacers’ Paul George would probably be just a brief rental. Mannix believes Philadelphia now has a team that can contend for the playoffs next season and possibly grow into the East’s next power. If that happens, Ainge’s reputation will take a major hit.

There’s more news out of Boston:

  • The Celtics get an A-minus for the deal and the Sixers get an A-plus from Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated. He writes that Fultz’s skills don’t fit with Boston’s immediate needs and his presence would have complicated Isaiah Thomas‘ free agency in 2018. Ainge, who owns Brooklyn’s unprotected first-rounder next season, may have two lottery picks to work with if the Lakers’ choice falls between No. 2 and 5. If not, he will have the Kings’ first-rounder in 2019.
  • Despite reports that they are pursuing another deal, the Celtics are telling agents they plan to use the No. 3 pick, tweets Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders.
  • Tatum is a strong possibility for the Celtics if the Lakers opt for Jackson at No. 2, according to Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald (Twitter link). Boston ranks Fultz, Jackson, Tatum and Lonzo Ball as its top four prospects.
  • The trade slightly raises Boston’s cap space to $19.8MM, tweets Keith Smith of Real GM, who adds that it can still be increased with other moves. The Sixers now have $40.2MM available, second only to the Kings.
  • Tom Ziller of SB Nation examines the Celtics’ possible motives for the deal, including a desire to take Jackson, to avoid conflict with Thomas, to set up a bigger deal involving Butler or George or to build a team capable of taking over the East when LeBron James retires.
  • The Celtics have “serious interest” in German forward Daniel Theis, relays Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The 25-year-old is a free agent after his contract with Brose Bamberg expired.

Atlantic Notes: Fultz, Horford, Celtics, 76ers

Celtics GM Danny Ainge was impressed by Markelle Fultz after the point guard spent two days in Boston, reports Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Boston owns the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft and is strongly considering using the pick on Fultz.

“It went well. I had dinner with him last night. He had a physical yesterday and he had a workout this morning with Brad [Stevens]. Everything went well. He’s very talented,” Ainge told Himmelsbach by phone Tuesday.

But that is not all going on in the Atlantic division:

  • Fresh off the first season of his sizable contract with the CelticsAl Horford opens up about the high expectations and immense pressures he faces in an article from Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald. Horford explains how he copes: “My biggest thing, and I learned this at an early stage in my career, was to not read any of that information or see anything, good or bad…One day people love you, the next they hate you, it’s really up and down, and my focus was making sure the team kept getting better as a group, and not worry about anything outside. One thing that helped me was not paying attention to a lot of things.”
  • 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo is not speeding up the team’s rebuild and instead appears to be patiently and strategically building a contender a la Sam Hinkie‘s “The Process,” writes Bob Cooney of Philly.com.
  • The 76ers will hold a pre-draft workout on Wednesday, reports Keith Pompey of Philly.com (link via Twitter). The scheduled participants are Jordan Bell (Oregon), Thomas Bryant (Indiana), Tyler Dorsey (Oregon), Elie Okobo (Élan Béarnais Pau-Orthez), L.J. Peak (Georgetown), and Steve Vasturia (Notre Dame).

Several Teams Contact Celtics About No. 1 Pick

“A handful of teams” have already called Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge about deals involving the top overall pick in the draft, relays Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe.

Despite a near-consensus in the media that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the first player selected, Ainge insists the Celtics are studying potential picks and aren’t leaning toward any player. They are also trying to determine the return that the selection will bring on the trade market.

“There’s two things that are happening,” Ainge said. “I think the value of [the pick] increases the closer you get to the draft is one, and two is we really need to know the value of the whole draft, because some of the conversations that you have are trading down in the draft and trading picks for players, moving backward and so forth.”

Boston began holding pre-draft workouts in early May, although Ainge says most of the players who have auditioned are being targeted with the team’s three second-round picks. Ainge and his staff are currently in Las Vegas for a workout and will travel to Los Angeles for another.

Most workouts involving top prospects are organized by agents, and Fultz hasn’t hired one yet. The Celtics held a private meeting with Fultz at the draft combine, and Ainge will try to set up a visit to Boston for the 19-year-old, who is doing most of his training in Washington, D.C.

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, who may also be considered for the top pick, turned down an invitation to work out for the Celtics.

Ainge said he’s not offended by Ball’s decision, understanding his desire to play for the Lakers because he grew up in Los Angeles and has concerns about the number of established players already in Boston’s backcourt.

“We’ve followed him in the summer in the past and we’re prepared on who he is, and it wouldn’t affect us in any way,” Ainge said. “I certainly don’t hold it against him or take it personal.”

Draft Notes: J. Jackson, Ball, Fultz, Strategies To Avoid

Is Josh Jackson a better prospect than Lonzo Ball? In a fascinating detail-rich piece, Rob Dauster of NBC Sports tackles this question. The column focuses on Jackson, outlining his strengths and weaknesses. The Kansas product’s most prominent strengths include his length, superior athleticism, competitiveness, and versatility. Dauster considers the forward’s main weaknesses to be his jump shot and his tendency to make defensive lapses.

After a careful and extensive consideration of Jackson’s game, Dauster concludes that he is a better prospect than Ball and the second-best prospect in the draft. In fact, the writer contends that the gap between Markelle Fultz and Jackson is smaller than the gap between Jackson and Ball.

Here are a couple more draft-related items:

  • Speaking of Fultz, the point guard said Tuesday that he has had multiple conversations with Danny Ainge since the draft combine, reports Jeff Goodman of ESPN.  Fultz told ESPN: “I want to be the No. 1 pick really bad. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and I feel like I would fit well in Boston.” The Washington freshman elaborated on his fit with the Celtics and star Isaiah Thomas: “We can both play on or off the ball. We can both score and also pass. I think we’d be great together. When we’ve talked since the lottery, we haven’t really talked about basketball much. He’s been through a lot lately.”
  • What are the most dangerous mistakes that NBA teams make during the draft? Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders describes the seven most common flawed strategies that can lead to “egregious error” in the draft. We strongly encourage you to read the full piece on the topic, as it includes juicy details, such as which players from this year’s draft class are potential busts based on each blunder from the list. Check out the piece to see Brigham’s full list.

Danny Ainge: ‘We Want To Keep Isaiah’

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge won’t let financial concerns force the team to get rid of Isaiah Thomas, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald.

Since Boston’s playoff run ended, there have been rumors that Thomas may not be part of the team’s long-term future, despite the outstanding season he just turned in. The two-time All-Star averaged 28.9 points per game and was considered part of the MVP race.

Thomas has one season left on his contract at about $6.26MM before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2018, when the Celtics will also face decisions about Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Thomas is eligible for an extension this summer, and while Ainge didn’t promise that will happen, he tried to quash rumors about a possible deal.

“Yeah, we can fit everybody in,” Ainge said. “But listen, those are questions that I don’t even have answers for yet. That’s part of the difficult puzzle that is all hard. All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Thomas was third in the league scoring race and earned second-team All-NBA honors. Ainge said he had one of the most impressive seasons ever compiled by a Celtics player, putting it in a class with the best of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Larry Bird and Bill Russell.

He also laughed at the idea that money will be a factor in keeping Thomas.

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” Ainge said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Ainge: Celtics Have Good Players But We Need Great Ones

Coming off a season in which the Celtics were the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference and stole a win against the Cavaliers in the conference finals, the team has every reason to be optimistic. However, team President Danny Ainge now enters the offseason with a lot of key decisions to make that could potentially restructure the entire roster.

Ainge spoke to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald to discuss his team and plans moving forward. While Ainge views the 2016/17 campaign as a positive step, he acknowledged that the road to a championship will be the biggest challenge moving forward.

“I feel like it doesn’t really matter what we’ve accomplished. If we’d lost Game 7 against the Wizards, I don’t feel any different than if we’re where we are today,” Ainge said. “I know that we’re good. I know that we’re not great. I know that we still have more to do, and, you know, that next step is by far the hardest.”

All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas will hit free agency after next season and is open to putting off extension talks to allow the Celtics to lure free agents. Also, the team holds the No.1 overall pick in the NBA Draft — which they’re expected to use on Washington product Markelle Fultz. In terms of free agents, the team will will have to make decisions on Gerald Green, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Jerebko with Kelly Olynyk a restricted free agent. Players like Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley currently figure into next year’s plans but trades for superstar players could results in any one of them moving.

“We have a lot of good players,” Ainge said, “but we need some great ones.”

Also, the team’s young but successful head coach Brad Stevens will be a key influence in the team’s decisions. An argument can be made that Stevens’ presence will be as big a recruitment tool as any player on the the roster. All told, fans, players, coaches, executives, and anybody associated with the Celtics should expect a revamped team — in some form — next season.

“So I feel like, yeah, this will be a very busy summer with a lot of difficult decisions,” Ainge said. “I feel like we will be prepared and are prepared. The only person that hasn’t been involved in day-to-day discussions with what we’ll try to do is Brad [Stevens], and he will be filled in on everything once he gets a little bit of rest. He will be filled in and be a big part of the decisions that we make.”

Celtics Were Willing To Deal Thomas For Lottery Pick In ’16 Draft

The Celtics had the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 draft and they used the selection to nab University of California’s Jaylen Brown. GM Danny Ainge wanted to acquire another lottery selection in addition to the team’s top-3 pick and he dangled everyone on the team in trade discussions, including Isaiah Thomas, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan reports.

“Before the draft last year, Danny was trying to get two picks, not just Jaylen Brown,” MacMullan told Bob Ryan on his podcast (h/t Comcast Sportsnet). “He was on the phone with everybody from coast to coast, and he was offering everybody. That includes Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas, and anything else they needed to get where he wanted to go. There were no untouchables on that team last year.”

MacMullan believes the only untouchable on Boston’s roster this summer will be Al Horford. The big man signed a four-year, $113MM deal with the team last offseason.

The Celtics won the lottery earlier this week and earned the top selection in the 2017 draft. In addition to the No. 1 overall selection, the franchise owns three second round picks. Only the Sixers have more selections in the upcoming draft.

If Boston wants to acquire another lottery pick in this year’s draft, I’d speculate that trading Thomas would fetch them a top-14 selection this time around. The point guard had an excellent season, scoring 28.9 points per game, a figure which only trailed Russell Westbrook and James Harden. He has just one season at a salary of approximately $6.26MM left on his deal after this year.

Celtics Notes: Grousbeck, George, Butler, Ainge

The Celtics are getting plenty of advice after landing the top pick in this year’s draft, but managing partner Wyc Grousbeck sounds like his decision is already made. Speaking with Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti in a video on CSNNE, Grousbeck said Boston will hold onto the selection “unless someone blows us away with an offer.”

“I think these picks are very, very valuable,” he said. “If you’re going to trade these picks for an established star making max, you’ve got to send max money out the door as well, so you’ve got to send more guys along, so this guy coming back had better be the second coming. What’s more, he’s going to be halfway through his career, whoever he is, and he’s going to be paid a lot of money, which restricts you in other ways.

“So if you can get a really good guy with this pick, you’ve got him, you can build with him, you can coach him up. You get to max money eventually, five to six years down the road, but it’s a totally different thing.”

There’s more out of Boston as the city prepares for the Eastern Conference finals and the No. 1 pick:

  • Winning the lottery gives the Celtics more leverage if they decide to reopen trade talks with the Pacers or Bulls, writes Lang Greene of Basketball Insiders. When Boston inquired about Paul George before the trade deadline, the Pacers were asking for a package that included the pick, along with Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. According to Greene, the Celtics refused to part with Crowder in any deal, which shut down the pursuit of George. Boston also had interest in Jimmy Butler, and there have been reports that those talks will resume this summer.
  • President of basketball operations Danny Ainge is enjoying the rewards of his patience, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com. Ainge started the rebuilding process in 2013 by trading Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets for a package of draft picks that produced the No. 3 selection last year [Brown], the No. 1 this season and Brooklyn’s unprotected first-rounder in 2018. Ainge has resisted the temptation to part with those picks and is in the process of building a group of talented young players around his veteran core.
  • Ainge plans to keep his options open between now and the draft, but he understands that his assets increased significantly Tuesday night, relays Kurt Helin of NBC Sports“At the trade deadline we were trading away the possibility of the No. 1 pick, a 25 percent chance of the No. 1 pick, but that’s a 75 percent chance of not having that pick, and that’s how teams look at it, which is probably why we didn’t get a deal done,” Ainge said. “Now we have the No. 1 pick and we will explore the value of it.”
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