Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge isn't afraid to take risks, but he was pretty confident his team would be able to select Jayson Tatum in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The Celtics won the draft lottery that year, but they decided to trade the No. 1 pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder. Even with two teams ahead of them -- Philadelphia at No. 1 and the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 -- Ainge liked his chances of Tatum being available when Boston came on the clock.
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Ainge was on Thursday's episode of "The Lowe Post" podcast with ESPN's Zach Lowe, and the C's exec was asked about that trade. Here's the exchange:
Lowe: When did you know, and why did you know, that you wanted to trade down in the (2017) draft? How did you know, and when did you know?
Ainge: “That's a question I can’t answer, honestly. I can't answer that question for lots of different reasons. But I do think there was a time, for lots of different reasons, that we had our eyes set on Jayson Tatum. We were very confident that Philly was taking Markelle (Fultz) and that Lonzo (Ball) was going to L.A. We were very confident in that assessment.”
The Suns had the No. 4 pick that year, and their head coach at the time, Earl Watson, said in a recent story by The Athletic's Jay King that he wanted Phoenix to draft Tatum. The Suns, of course, would've had to trade up to make that happen if the Celtics were going to pick Tatum third overall. Watson told King that "ownership chose Josh Jackson." Phoenix did take Jackson at No. 4, and he's no longer on the team.
“There was a story that came out this week about Jayson going to Phoenix. Jayson was never gonna end up in Phoenix," Ainge told Lowe. "Even if he didn’t come in for that second workout with us days before the draft in Boston, we were still going to take Jayson Tatum."
It all worked out for the Celtics. Tatum made the 2020 NBA All-Star Game and has become one of the league's best two-way players in just his third season. He looks like a future superstar -- if he's not already -- and the best player from the 2017 draft class.
Ainge has made some great trades in his career running the Celtics, but this move to acquire Tatum and another lottery pick definitely ranks among his best.