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Report: Contrary to Earl Watson story, Suns would’ve drafted Jayson Tatum over Josh Jackson

Suns forward Josh Jackson and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 26: Josh Jackson #20 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics on March 26, 2018 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

The biggest reason Jayson Tatum doesn’t play for the Suns? The Celtics drafted him No. 3 in 2017 – one pick ahead of Phoenix’s selection (used on Josh Jackson).

If that weren’t enough, former Suns coach Earl Watson blamed Suns owner Robert Sarver for thwarting Watson’s plan to unite Devin Booker and Tatum (who was initially on board).

Watson, via Jay King of The Athletic:

Watson wanted Tatum badly enough to hold what he called “uncomfortable” conversations with team owner Robert Sarver, trying to convince the organization it should do whatever it took to draft the Duke star. Sarver preferred Josh Jackson, Watson said
He remembers Sarver saying of the Suns, “We do not need another Devin Booker.”

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Whether or not Watson’s story is accurate, Sarver hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. He has a history of interfering with Phoenix’s draft plans. I’m unconvinced we could ever know what the Suns would do if both Tatum and Jackson were on the board.

While coaching the Suns, Watson sometimes clashed with management and was unceremoniously fired. I can see why he’d want to inflate his own evaluation ability and paint Sarver as a fool.

But a couple half-hearted defenses of Sarver:

1. Teams too often prioritize scorers. There’s only one ball. There should generally be more consideration to players who can help without the ball in their hands.

But talent matters, and both Booker and Tatum are highly talented. Teams should generally acquire talented players and hope they learn to play together.

It likely wouldn’t have been difficult for Booker and Tatum, anyway. Tatum’s defense and outside shooting would’ve complemented Booker. As shown this season while playing with Ricky Rubio, Booker also has off-ball juice that could’ve been unlocked more often with Tatum.

2. I rated Jackson ahead of Tatum on my board.

But a big reason: I thought Tatum was too much of a ball-stopper without the shooting ability to easily fit into a quality team offense.

I’d like to believe, if I saw him make 40 straight 3-pointers, I would’ve upgraded my projection.

Again, there was likely no reasonable way for the Suns to get Tatum no matter how badly Watson wanted him. The 76ers traded up for the No. 1 pick to get Markelle Fultz. Boston was enamored with Tatum, who came around on the Celtics (which paid off for both sides).

Maybe Phoenix could have traded up to No. 2, where the Lakers picked Lonzo Ball. Probably not. But there were some strange aspects to Los Angeles’ process. So, maybe. But probably not.

At No. 4, Tatum was gone. The Suns were left to take Jackson, who has struggled.

And we’re left with these differing accounts.