NEW YORK — The top prospects in the NBA draft gathered in a third-floor ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Wednesday and were peppered with questions most of them could not answer.
They did not know what team would pick them, or how a team might use them, or what roster would be the perfect fit. Mostly, they were just pleased that this long and sometimes confusing process would soon finally have some clarity.
After trading the No. 1 overall pick to the 76ers, the Celtics now hold the No. 3 choice. And on Wednesday the two players widely believed to be under consideration by Boston sat at tables about 30 feet apart and considered what it might be like to become a Celtic.
As Duke forward Jayson Tatum discussed the two workouts he completed in front of Boston’s brass, Kansas forward Josh Jackson explained why he had declined to meet with the team in recent weeks.
When the Celtics still held the No. 1 pick, Jackson turned down an invitation to work out for them in Boston, and he later canceled a workout he was going to complete in front of them in a different city. Celtics executives were puzzled by the move at the time.
“Me and my agent talked and we just didn’t feel like they were seriously going to consider drafting me at No. 1,” Jackson said. “So we felt like it would have been a waste of our time and their time for me to come and workout.”
Jackson said that after the Celtics acquired the No. 3 pick, he was open to working out for them, but he said it just did not work logistically. Jackson arrived in New York Monday, the same day the trade was finalized.
Jackson said that as of Wednesday afternoon he had not had a conversation with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, but last week he spoke to head coach Brad Stevens and some assistant coaches.
Although the Celtics would have preferred to have a face-to-face meeting with Jackson, Ainge has made it clear a situation like this would not make him reluctant to draft a player. And Jackson insisted that despite the perception that he wanted to avoid becoming a Celtic, he would be eager to join the team.
“I think it would be great to play in Boston,” Jackson said. “I see a lot of the players on their team are about the same things that I’m about. Anybody who knows me knows I love to win, and I see that in a lot of the guys on their team.”
Tatum, meanwhile, said he was surprised when the Celtics traded the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia, and excited when they called him in for a Monday workout. He had never been to Boston before, and he said it was a productive session.
Afterward, he met with Ainge and Stevens to watch clips from his freshman season at Duke as well as some of the Celtics’ plays from this year.
Tatum said Stevens talked about the value of positional versatility. The 6-foot-8-inch forward sees himself as a player who is capable of guarding point guards as well as power forwards. He also said that the opportunity to play for a surging team like Boston as a rookie would be beneficial.
“If I get drafted by the Celtics, one of the top franchises in the NBA, they have a great team,” Tatum said, “so I’d go in there and just be able to learn from a lot of true professionals they have on their team, and such a great organization.”
Former Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick, said he did not take it personally when the Celtics traded that selection.
“If you look at what the Celtics do, they trade a lot,” Fultz said. “That’s what they’re known for. At the end of the day, they did what’s best for the organization and best for themselves. But I feel like they still have a lot of respect for me and I still have a lot of respect for them.”
Fultz said he first realized a trade could be possible when he woke up Saturday morning and was told by his trainer that they were going to Philadelphia for a workout.
“It didn’t really affect me,” Fultz said. “I just thought about it and was seeing who [the Celtics] were trading with.”
UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball is viewed as the most likely player to be selected No. 2 overall by the Lakers, and he also created a bit of a stir when he turned down the Celtics’ request for a workout when they held the top pick. Ball, who is from Los Angeles, explained his reasoning Wednesday.
“I think if it’s either play for the hometown or go No. 1,” he said, “I’d rather play for the hometown.”
Other players like Jonathan Isaac, Dennis Smith Jr., and Lauri Markkanen spoke positively about their experiences working out for the Celtics.
Smith said it was surreal to meet Ainge just a few days after seeing footage of him in an ESPN documentary about the Lakers/Celtics battles of the 1980s. Markkanen said Boston’s workouts were unusual because he was asked to go against another player rather than just doing drills by himself. And Isaac said he had no issue with joining a Celtics team that might not need his services right away.
“If you go to a playoff team like Boston, you might have to sit down a little bit and wait your turn,” he said, “but you can still learn from guys that are playing.”
Josh Jackson wants to get back to playing: "The last time I played 5 on 5 I was wearing a Kansas jersey and we were in the tournament."— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) June 21, 2017
Josh Jackson on the first thing he'll get after he's drafted. "Maybe a dog to keep me comfy."— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) June 21, 2017