Since taking over as the Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations, Brad Stevens has shown an affinity for bringing back players who used to don the green. From pretty much the very get-go too.
His first move as an executive was bringing back Al Horford, and it didn’t stop there. Former Celtics like Enes Kanter Freedom, Daniel Theis, and Luke Kornet all soon followed. The guy even went all out in bringing back Celtics alumni when he signed Joe Johnson to a 10-day contract.
Not only that, but Stevens has entertained the idea of bringing back other former Celtics too. Last summer, the Celtics were one of the teams who attended an Aron Baynes workout (though they decided they weren’t interested), and, per HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto, they tried to bring back Josh Richardson this offseason.
Despite parting ways with past Celtics, Stevens clearly still sees enough value in them that he hasn’t let go of them entirely. At the moment, the Celtics only have one roster spot left. For the time being, it appears Blake Griffin will not be back with the Celtics, and it’s very possible the Celtics will either leave that last roster spot open or go a similar route that they did with Noah Vonleh/Justin Jackson last season, i.e., let him take a spot until the trade deadline approaches.
Reunion options for Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens
If that is the route they go, and should Stevens become deadset on adding another Celtics alum to the roster, here are several options that fit the profile.
Kelly Olynyk – Utah Jazz
Olynyk’s been linked to the Celtics multiple times since leaving the team in 2017. The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach named Olynyk as one of their possible free-agent targets during the 2021 offseason, but that may have been pure speculation. What wasn’t speculation was when Heavy’s Steve Bulpett reported that the Celtics were among the teams interested in acquiring the former Celtics playoff hero at the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline.
Even while excluding Olynyk’s history in Boston, it’s not hard to see why the Celtics would like him back. KO has established himself as one of the league’s most reliable stretch bigs, and he’s coming off his most efficient season as a pro, averaging 12.5 points per game on a near 50/40/90 season, per Basketball-Reference. The 50/40/90 club is extremely exclusive, and even more so among players of Olynyk’s stature.
Also, Olynyk will also be fighting for minutes alongside Lauri Markkanen, John Collins, and Walker Kessler in Utah this season, so one can’t help but wonder if he’s going to be squeezed out of the rotation at some point. Sadly, with their current roster makeup, it’s hard to see Olynyk accepting a role as the Celtics’ fourth big. Currently, it makes no sense, but sometime down the line, think of him more as someone the Celtics may look into bringing back when Al Horford eventually hangs it up.
And should his re-acquisition help the Celtics win it all, such a feat should hopefully stop Celtics fans from labeling him as the guy who Danny Ainge drafted over Giannis.
Daniel Theis – Indiana Pacers
Since Stevens has done this before, who’s to say he won’t try again? Though Theis built enough fanfare for his rise through the Celtics ranks that the fanbase was ecstatic to find out Brad had brought him back in 2022, would they feel the same way if Stevens got him again?
Pessimists will point out that Theis sucked in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Let the record show that, indeed, he did. Among the Celtics who played at least 200 minutes in that postseason, Theis had the team’s worst net rating of minus-15.5 overall, per NBA.com. That was not a welcome sight since Theis was forced to fill in quite a bit for the hampered Robert Williams III in that stretch.
Let the record also show that Theis was actually quite good in the innings-eater role he had in his brief return to Boston. He put up his best shooting efficiency from the field during the 21 games he played towards the back end, putting up his best shooting efficiency as a pro, shooting 59.8% from the field, per Basketball-Reference, and the Celtics went 4-2 during the stretch in which he had to fill in as a starter in their last six regular season games. Even if his playoff numbers aren’t good, he was their starting center when they swept the Nets, so that counts for something.
Even if it doesn’t, were he to come back, Theis would be playing the role Blake Griffin did last season. Although Griffin exceeded the little expectations he had coming into Boston, it’s not like he left big shoes to fill. Particularly for someone like Theis, who is younger and has plenty of familiarity with the Celtics already. The real question will be if the Pacers let him go.
Theis is coming off a season in which he played only seven games due to a knee injury, combined with the Pacers wanting to focus on Jalen Smith’s and Isiah Jackson’s development. While Theis was respected as a mentor, and the Pacers have given every indication that their goal is to win as much as they can, if the plan is to focus on the development of their young bigs, Theis has no place on that team. If Theis gets waived, no way the Celtics wouldn’t give his agent a call.
If for nothing else, explaining why they need the real Theis again is easy to articulate because all the other Daniel Theises are just imitating…
Evan Fournier – New York Knicks
Read all the details here.
Josh Richardson – Miami Heat
Because of the unexpectedly gargantuan success that followed after they traded him for Derrick White, it was easy to forget that Josh Richardson was one of the few bright spots in what had previously started as an irritatingly mediocre season for the Boston Celtics.
Coming off a disastrous tenure with the Mavericks, Richardson redeemed his value during the 44 games he played in Boston during the 2021-22 season. While Richardson’s defense and complementary shot-creation was something he had previously shown before coming to Boston, the hot three-point shooting – 39.7% on 3.5 attempts a game – was a welcome wrinkle, especially since that wasn’t something Richardson was known for coming in.
Anyone with half a brain would tell you that the Celtics are better off with Derrick White instead of Richardson, and they’re right, but in the words of Tony Stark, is it too much to ask for both? Stevens clearly thought no this summer, though his pursuit of Richardson proved fruitless. His time with the Celtics may have been brief, but he left a good enough impression that Stevens shot his shot with Richardson again this summer.
The one current hangup with a Richardson reunion is the team he chose the Boston Celtics over this summer. Knowing what Miami’s goals are, they are not helping the Celtics get better. The Celtics may have to wait until 2024 to get another chance at him, or they may wait to see how the Damian Lillard situation plays out for the Heat. If Richardson is included in a Lillard deal, the door may not be shut just yet.
The Celtics also stocked up on wings this summer – Jordan Walsh, Oshae Brissett, Dalano Banton, Svi Mikhaliuk – which would make a Richardson acquisition look a little puzzling currently, but he’s more proven than all of them.
Danilo Gallinari- Washington Wizards
Admittedly, a lot of this is based on pure sentiment. Actually, scratch that. All of this is based on pure sentiment. Gallinari never got the chance to play for the Celtics and to make it worse, he grew up a Celtics fan who took less money to play for Boston in 2022. One unfortunate ACL re-tear obliterated a pretty heartwarming story on top of shelving what was seen as a prized addition.
Gallinari came to Boston expected to be a cornerstone of Boston’s second unit as a shot creator and a three-point marksman right beside Malcolm Brogdon. Even if he’s not the high-octane scorer he was during his heyday with the Nuggets, Clippers, and Thunder, Gallinari still showed he could get buckets, albeit at a lesser rate when he played for the Hawks.
But that was a year and a half ago. Even if Gallinari warmed to the idea of playing for Boston again, he’s in his mid-30s and coming off a second ACL tear to the same knee. While what was left of his burst is likely a thing of the past, his shooting abilities with his size would still make him a threat on the floor. For a fourth big, and knowing Horford’s time is winding down, Gallo, on paper, would fit that role nicely.
Then, of course, there’s another elephant in the room. Due to CBA provisions, the Boston Celtics can’t get Gallinari back via trade or free agency for a year unless he gets traded again. Since the Wizards have given all indications that he’s staying put, Gallinari probably won’t go anywhere unless the nation’s capital fully embraces a rebuild. That is a strong possibility – Took ’em long enough to wake up and smell the coffee! – but a lot of strings would have to be pulled to get Gallo (technically) back in green.
He also may or may not hold a grudge against Boston for getting rid of him.
Mike Muscala – Washington Wizards
There was some temptation to lump Gallinari and Muscala together, but they’re not the same player. Plus, one actually did take the floor for the Celtics during his time in Boston, while the other didn’t. Funny enough, the role Muscala played in Boston was a poor man’s version of what they envisioned Gallo’s role.
In the Brad Stevens era – both as coach and GM – the Boston Celtics have shown an affinity for stretch bigs like Horford, Porzingis, Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Grant Williams, and so on and so forth. They’ve even had bigs not known for their floor-stretching abilities try their hand at shooting threes, like Theis, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson, and Aron Baynes. Muscala fits the former archetype, and he showed in Boston that he’s not afraid to let it fly from deep when given the chance.
Muscala didn’t get much burn in his short-lived Boston Celtics tenure unless they were very shorthanded. Given that their frontcourt contains players who are either aging or injury-prone, he would potentially be given more time – especially now that Williams and Griffin are no longer a factor – and knows a little about how Joe Mazzulla likes to play.
The same rules that currently prohibit a Gallinari reunion in Beantown also apply to Muscala. Washington may very well keep him for the long run, but it wouldn’t make much sense to do that if they turn out to be the rebuilding team their roster makes them look like. As far as regular season depth goes, the Celtics could do worse than Moose.
Now, of course, this topic may beg the question of why other former Boston Celtics weren’t mentioned, and the simple answer is because they aren’t nearly as attainable, or they probably aren’t wanted back. The Celtics aren’t getting Dennis Schroder back because he was a bust, nor are they getting Grant Williams back because he’s locked in with Dallas for the foreseeable future.
Gordon Hayward’s not coming back because, even with his injury-prone tendencies, he’ll want a bigger role than the Celtics can offer, and Kyrie Irving- the less that’s said about him, the better.
Stevens has shown that he’s not above bringing back players Boston previously got rid of. But even so, it’s very possible that none of these players ever make it back to Massachusetts. However, don’t be surprised if Stevens didn’t at least try because he’s already done just that multiple times while running the Boston Celtics.