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Following the Josh Jackson Rumor Trail

The first pick may have been settled by the Sixers-Celtics trade, but mystery still abounds in the rest of the top five. And no prospect seems more in limbo than Josh Jackson, who has been tugged around by rumor after rumor. Where is he going? We think we have an idea. Time to expand your mind, people.

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

With Thursday’s NBA draft looming, strategic leaking has reached levels typically reserved for agents of the deep state and "don’t break the seal night" at college bars. If reports are believed, teams are thirstily attempting to mortgage their futures to trade up for a prospect, questioning the workout stamina of another, being wowed by the triangle-readiness of some guy, and hand-wringing about the loud-mouthed dad of a different dude.

Trying to sift the nuggets from the dirt is impossible, especially when teams and agents have incentive to push misleading gossip. An intrepid truth-seeker can easily tumble down a conspiratorial, Louise Mensch–ian wormhole. Are the Kings desperate enough to flip two lottery picks to move up for De’Aaron Fox? Did Vladyslav Koreniuk, an obscure Ukrainian center, drop out of this year’s draft because of sub rosa ties to Vnesheconombank and the heartbreak grass poisoning of an intelligence officer in Bratislava? Or did he just need to develop a jump hook? Follow the money, people.

This brings us to Josh Jackson, a Kansas forward whose name has cropped up in more whisper campaigns than anyone else’s. Rangy, fluid, and explosive, he has arguably the highest ceiling in the draft — some say Kawhi Leonard–esque — but comes with an important caveat: "if he learns to shoot." His enticing talent is accompanied by other concerns, too. Metrics guys don’t love his numbers. And Jackson is undergoing anger management classes after an altercation in which he threatened to "beat" basketball team member McKenzie Calvert, according to an affidavit from Calvert and two witnesses, and kicked her vehicle outside of a bar.

All the chatter about Jackson makes sense; he’s the most volatile element at the top of the draft. With the Celtics and Sixers agreeing to swap the first and third picks, there’s a bit less intrigue than usual (Philadelphia will take University of Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, the consensus no. 1 selection, and the team basically started peddling his bobbleheads a minute into last Saturday’s workout). Lonzo Ball, at the moment, is probably destined for Los Angeles, although it’s hard to separate his public campaign to stay in his hometown from the Lakers’ actual interest.

Over the past week or so, rumors have pegged Jackson as landing everywhere from first overall to dropping out of the top three entirely. We’ll rank each Jackson-related item on a scale from one to five tinfoil hats, with five being the most fantastical conspiracy theory.

This supposed pinkie swear was well-covered last week, but the terrain at the top of the draft has shifted. The Sixers may have told Jackson they’d take him at no. 3, but they’re not picking there anymore. The Lakers’ position hasn’t changed. So let’s go all the way Infowars here: It was the Celtics who solemnly swore to take Jackson. Knowing it was going to orchestrate a trade-down with either Los Angeles or Philadelphia, both of whom were enamored with Fultz, Boston maintained its leverage and concealed its interest by having Jackson cancel his scheduled workout with the team. This is almost believable in the same way it feels like Instagram is eavesdropping on your conversations (otherwise, why so many ads for real estate in places with lax extradition policies?).

3/5 Tinfoil Hats: The wisdom of making a promise to anyone is questionable — see: then–Sixers coach Larry Brown keeping his word to draft Larry Hughes, despite Paul Pierce dropping in the 1998 draft — but Jackson is a likely top-five selection either way, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

After news of the ostensible "promise" broke, the Lakers brought Jackson back for a second look (which, of course, indicates they didn’t make any such guarantee). "Of course, I’m not gonna tell them no," he reasoned at the time. But the workout, which occurred on the 16th, apparently went terribly, and he struggled with both shooting and ballhandling. The workout occurred before the Celtics-Sixers deal, so there was little benefit to the Lakers feigning disinterest in Jackson. If Los Angeles was trying to trade up to snatch Fultz, appearing enthusiastic about other options could have been beneficial. The Lakers can take Jackson if they feel like it, but they seem lukewarm.

1/5 Tinfoil Hats: Since the Lakers already have Brandon Ingram as a lanky wing and are rumored to be offering D’Angelo Russell in exchange for another lottery pick, they’re probably drafting Ball (or, in a surprise move, another point guard, like Fox or Dennis Smith Jr.).

A blazing new release from Chad Ford Productions, this scorcher included a quote from a rival general manager who claimed knowledge of the Celtics’ thinking. "From all my conversations with them, I’m convinced they’ll take Jackson no. 1," said the unknown executive. Now that Boston has slipped to third, this suddenly makes tons of sense. Danny Ainge wasn’t sold on Fultz, so he snatches an exceptionally valuable asset from Philly and still has the opportunity to get his man. Then, concerned that Los Angeles could flip-flop with Phoenix, which picks fourth and may crave Jackson, Ainge unspooled Monday’s nonsensical tidbit about being interested in taking Duke’s Jayson Tatum as a Paul Pierce simulacrum.

2/5 Tin Foil Hats: Ainge wouldn’t have traded down if he thought Fultz was a surefire star (despite the Celtics’ glut of guards), and was quoted Monday as saying, "We think there’s a really good chance the player we’ll take at 3 is the same player we would have taken at 1." That sounds like Jackson.

After reports that Philadelphia was in "advanced talks" with Boston about swapping picks, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith put his ear to the NBA grapevine. "You listen to most folks, they’re talking about Markelle Fultz out of Washington," he said on SportsCenter. "I’m hearing Josh Jackson, out of Kansas." Can’t wait to find out on draft night if the Sixers get their man!

5/5 Tin Foil Hats