BOSTON – Stepping off the plane at Sacramento International Airport, Danny Ainge and his delegation turned on their phones to some infuriating news.
With Celtics Assistant GM Mike Zarren and head coach Brad Stevens on board, Ainge and the Celtics’ top brass had been informed by Josh Jackson’s camp that the workout they were flying coast to coast for had been abruptly cancelled.
In the precious hours of draft week, the team had wasted an entire day for nothing. No face time, no workout, nothing. It was the first time a prospect had ever cancelled their workout with this Celtics front office administration while they were en route.
"They just decided to cancel it as we flew. As Brad and I and Mike Zarren flew cross country," Ainge told reporters in his post-draft press conference.
"Yeah, I was mad! We flew across country. Are you kidding me? I had to get up at four o'clock and fly back home."
Ainge and company were stuck in Sacramento, languishing in a quiet city with a infuriatingly empty schedule.
“There’s nothing to do in Sacramento!” Ainge said at the podium. “That could get me in trouble here.”
Zarren clarified that they went to bed and flew home, completely empty handed.
Despite Josh Jackson saying Wednesday in multiple interviews that he couldn’t set up a workout due to, “logistics issues,” Ainge made it clear Jackson’s camp was hell bent on sabotage.
Jackson said he had talked to Celtics coaches over the phone earlier in the process, but this was refuted by Ainge.
“[I] Never talked with Josh. No one in our organization did. I know someone wrote something that was different, but that’s not the case.”
The cloak and dagger games started with agent B.J. Armstrong, who has tried to keep Jackson away from Boston, sources told CelticsBlog. Jackson said he did not work out with the Celtics when they were at one because they weren’t showing interest in taking him there. When the Celtics moved off the first pick, they began pounding the phones to get a sit down with Jackson in addition to his medical records. Multiple reports came out this week that the Celtics were hitting a roadblock in obtaining his medical records, which took several days to acquire. It is unclear if they came from Jackson’s camp, or another franchise no longer pursuing Jackson.
"So there was something that he didn't want to play for the Celtics," Ainge said. "In spite of that, we watched Josh for two years and we're fans. He's a terrific kid and a good player. So, we tried not to overreact to those kinds of things and make a big deal of it. Agents and players have all sorts of motivations to get to certain places, as we've seen in the past.”
That memory is fresh for Ainge, who dealt with a comparable scenario with Kris Dunn last draft. CelticsBlog reported the day before that draft that the rumors of Dunn interest were a smoke screen to drive up the price of moving the third pick then, with the Sixers and Bulls in their sights. The Celtics’ interest in Dunn fell off a cliff when he made it clear that he wanted to avoid landing in green, competing with Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, and Terry Rozier for exposure.
"Remember last year, Kris Dunn didn't want to come here. We didn't hold it against him. We just felt like we were taking the player that we wanted. And I think the same thing this time. I don't think we were trying to penalize Josh too much. But we didn't have -- we didn't get to see him or talk to him face to face."
But they had plenty of facetime with Jayson Tatum. He did a film session with Brad Stevens and got to know his new coach.
“We watched some film on their offense last year and we watched a little bit of film when I was on Duke,” Tatum told CelticsBlog on his introductory press conference call. “We didn’t really get to talk about basketball. We really just got to know each other.”
Stevens liked the man he got to know and a few days later, he is a Celtic. Jackson heads to Phoenix, where he and Devin Booker – and maybe Eric Bledsoe still – will take turns dropping 20 points in blowout losses. Jackson will get the exposure and profile on a rebuilding team his agent wanted. He charred one bridge and is crawling into the bed he made for himself. He’s got his career ahead of him to figure out if he made the right call.
Author’s note: The lede of the story was edited after a team source clarified they did not get the news until after landing in Sacramento.