The riptide of post–NBA Finals news and rumors has begun, and the man leading the first wave is … Josh Jackson?
The Kansas forward embodies the word upside. He doesn’t have the chops to be a cinch no. 1 pick like Markelle Fultz nor the polarizing circus that surrounds Lonzo Ball. But he is pretty damn good at basketball, and he could be the prospect who throws this draft for a loop.
John Gambadoro reported Monday that Jackson had received a promise from a team in the top three — the Celtics (probably not), the Lakers (insert emoji eyes here), or the Sixers (interesting). The news was compounded by immediate reports that Jackson canceled his workout with the Celtics, while just Tuesday, he opted in for a second workout with the Lakers because, he said, "Of course, I’m not gonna tell them no."
So. What does this all mean?
Why would Jackson work out for the Lakers again if the promise was, in fact, from them? For appearances only? Because the promise is actually from the Sixers instead? Because the promise isn’t real at all? Of course, we won’t have answers to any of these questions until Adam Silver steps up to the mic on draft night (or Woj reports them). But that’s part of the elaborate speculation that pervades the prelude of such events in the NBA (see: free agency).
I’ve gone back and forth on whether the second Lakers workout is the worst smoke screen ever or the best smoke screen ever from Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and Co. Either way, they’re adding more fuel to the fire that they aren’t all in on Lonzo. And to that I say, bring on the chaos. This entire predraft lead-up has basically been an exercise in trying to figure out whether the Lakers will crush the Big Baller master plan and pass on Lonzo with the second pick. Though the oldest Ball son’s fit in L.A. feels seamless, there’s a chance Lakers brass may prefer Jackson’s athletic improvisations over Lonzo’s more tactical style. But bringing in the former Jayhawk for a private second workout and possibly being involved in this reported promise feels like either the Lakers are foolish enough to show their hand or they’ve concocted an elaborate exercise in the hopes of getting another franchise to trade up for the second pick.
The Sixers were always thought to be the team that would act as the inflection point for where the rest of the draft would go. Most assumed that Philly, sitting in third position, would have its choice of the plethora of top picks aside from Fultz and Lonzo that we all know are still quite good. Jackson seems likely to be the best player available if the Lakers do select Lonzo, meaning the promise report could have more plausibility coming from Philly. But as always with the Sixers, you never really know.
Their position is looking better by the day, though, as they can either draft the best player at that spot in Jackson, or wait to see if Lonzo falls to them, making them a possible trade-down candidate with a team like the Kings. In the end, Philly could end up with Malik Monk or De’Aaron Fox as well as an extra asset or two. Sam Hinkie may be gone, but the Process lives on.
But perhaps the most important takeaway here is that the Jackson buzz is building. As our own Jonathan Tjarks put it, Jackson’s athleticism is "on a level all its own," his defensive versatility is off the charts, and the only thing keeping him from being the top pick is his spurious perimeter shooting, which appears fixable. Jackson has had legal issues in the past and, in his post-workout interview with the Los Angeles media, he mentioned that he was wrapping up anger-management counseling.
On Tuesday evening it was reported that the Lakers were interested in bringing Lonzo back to their practice facility in El Segundo for a second workout too. Are the Lakers indecisive? Are they geniuses? Has Magic Johnson fooled us all with his tweets? Whatever the case, this is as good a reminder as any that nobody really knows anything.