Three weeks before the 2017 NBA draft, the top two picks already appear predestined, and they will almost surely infuse the Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry with some much-needed animus.
Even before the mid-May draft lottery delivered the top two picks to the Celtics and Lakers, in that order, Ball made clear his preference to play for his hometown Lakers rather than be the No. 1 overall pick. His refusal of Boston’s request for a pre-draft workout only reinforced that revelation.
Now, Fultz is being equally transparent about his desire to be selected first by Boston. He has been in close communication with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge since they met at the draft combine, and the two sides are working toward finalizing a date for a pre-draft visit, Fultz told ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman on Tuesday. Then, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard dropped this nugget:
“I want to be the No. 1 pick really bad. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and I feel like I would fit well in Boston.”
ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan polled a number of general managers about the No. 1 pick earlier this month, and to a man they revealed Fultz was their preference. Goodman confirmed his colleague’s report, citing multiple sources who described Fultz as “the front-runner to be selected first overall.”
When an NBC Washington reporter presented Fultz with a T-shirt from Boston’s playoff run last week, Fultz said, “That’s nice. I think the internet’s gonna go crazy when they see this. They gonna go nuts.”
— Carol Maloney (@carolmaloney4) May 21, 2017
All of this comes two months after the likely top-two picks began brewing their own feud. Ball went on ESPN Radio in late March to tell anyone listening of Fultz, “I feel I’m better than him.” Fultz responded by telling multiple media outlets a) there was “no doubt” he would be the No. 1 overall pick, and b) he was using Ball’s comments as motivation “to work harder and be sure I put myself further in front.”
“If he happens to be the point guard I’m going against, then yeah, I want to get him out of the way,” Fultz, whoseTwitter account is rife with likes of tweets about his budding battle with Ball, told SI.com.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 18, 2017
“No. 1 is big for me because I’ve been dreaming about it all my life,” Fultz added to SI Now in April. “I want to come in and kill it. I want to be rookie of the year. … Honestly, me? I want to be MVP next year.”
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry has been dormant since Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant did battle last decade and the two teams met in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, so it could sure use mortal enemies working on opposite sides. And of course conspiracy theorists will consider this part of the NBA’s divine plan.
First, the Celtics have to actually hold on to the No. 1 overall pick. There are those who believe Boston — fresh off an Eastern Conference finals appearance — will be looking to trade the pick for proven All-Star talent, especially since the draft is front-loaded with guards and the Celtics’ backcourt already stars Isaiah Thomas in addition to featuring Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.
But Fultz was quick to silence those concerns with ESPN.com. “We can both play on or off the ball,” he said of Thomas. “We can both score and also pass. I think we’d be great together. When we’ve talked since the lottery, we haven’t really talked about basketball much. He’s been through a lot lately.”
This is similar to what Fultz told SI.com in April about his relationship with Thomas. The two University of Washington products worked out together last summer. “I’ve talked to him a lot,” he said. “We always talk about the opportunity. That would be the craziest backcourt.” To which Thomas responded after the lottery: “He’s a good friend of mine. If it happens, we’ll figure out how to play together.”
Finally, former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who had both Thomas and Fultz on the Huskies, told Boston.com over the weekend, “There are some who are such pure point guards that if they don’t have the ball in their hands then they don’t know how to function. Both those guys are complete guards.”
If the Lakers can say the same about Ball and D’Angelo Russell, Celtics-Lakers might just be fun again.
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