Why was the Boston Celtics-Kelly Olynyk rumor leaked?

Marc Stein's report about the Celtics' interest in Olynyk while exciting seems a bit odd, knowing how Brad Stevens has operated since taking over as President of Basketball Operations.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game One
Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game One / Elsa/GettyImages
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By now, everyone knows about Marc Stein's Christmas report that the Celtics are interested in getting Kelly Olynyk back. Just like how, by now, everyone also realizes that the odds of Olynyk being traded back to the Celtics are practically impossible, knowing the circumstances. Even though his contract is relatively inexpensive, stringing together a trade for Olynyk is tricky for Boston to do without potentially messing with a formula that's proving itself to be working.

That notion alone would make anyone ask why something like this was leaked. However, there's more to it than that. Leaking that the Celtics are interested in trading for Kelly Olynyk (again) isn't something that fits Brad Stevens' forte as an executive. Ever since he took over as the Celtics' President of Basketball Operations, Stevens has typically been tight-lipped when it comes to leaking trade rumors.

More often than not, in the Stevens era, nothing gets leaked from the Celtics' end before a move happened. No one thought the Celtics wanted Al Horford back before Stevens agreed to trade Kemba Walker for him. Malcolm Brogdon seemed like a wild fantasy before it was reported that the Celtics got him. It seems like a distant memory now, but nothing had linked the Celtics to Josh Richardson until Stevens plucked him from Dallas. There's clearly a pattern here indicating that Stevens almost always works in the shadows.

Adding to that, usually, when a Celtics trade rumor is leaked, it's right before the deal is made. The day they acquired Porzingis, Shams Charania reported their interest hours before it became official.

Ditto goes for the Jrue Holiday trade. When Adam Himmelsbach gave the lowdown of what was going on the day before the trade was made, that more or less confirmed that the Celtics' interest in Holiday was real since something like that didn't usually make it to the press.

Which brings us back to Olynyk. Again, this is not the first time Olynyk has been linked to the Celtics in recent years. Heavy Sports' Steve Bulpett reported that the Celtics were interested in bringing back last year. While nothing came of that, following Stein's report on Christmas, MassLive's Brian Robb gave the full scoop on how negotiations went between the Celtics and Jazz.

"Multiple league sources told MassLive that Boston had trade talks with the Jazz last season about reuniting with the Utah big man but were unwilling to match Ainge’s asking price."

So, their interest in Olynyk was clearly not a bunch of hot air. The one stark contrast between then and now is that the Celtics had expendable players on salaries they could combine to get Olynyk in early 2023, like Grant Williams, Danilo Gallinari, and Justin Jackson Jr. Now, the equation isn't as simple because the Celtics can't aggregate their end of bench players to match money to acquire Olynyk. Plus, the Celtics would be fools to sacrifice either better players for Olynyk, like Al Horford, or eat into their depth by trading Sam Hauser and/or Payton Pritchard for him.

So Boston can't really acquire Olynyk, and they usually don't let this kind of info hit the news waves. So then, how could this have been leaked?

Possible explanations for why Boston Celtics' interest in Kelly Olynyk was leaked again

Let's first see this from the Celtics' perspective. Because the Celtics would have so many hoops to jump through to make an Olynyk trade happen, Boston may have leaked this to show that, in the event that Olynyk gets waived, they would scoop him up the first chance they got. Or better yet, Olynyk's camp is letting the league know that the interest is mutual in a reunion, so if it were to come to that, Olynyk might very well go back to the first NBA team he ever played for.

Next, let's see this from the Jazz's perspective. It's possible that while the Celtics have discussed bringing back their former lottery pick with the Jazz despite the odds against them, Danny Ainge and co. have leaked this to let teams know that they may let Olynyk go to one of the best teams in the league. Doing this would potentially stir up leaguewide interest in the stretch big so as to prevent a "rich get richer" situation. Ainge knows how to extract assets out of his own players, so something like that would be right up his alley.

It's also possible the Celtics are doing the Jazz a solid. Not just because of Ainge's and Stevens' relationship, but since the Celtics stood in the way of the Jazz's offseason plans twice in 2023 when they acquired Porzingis and Holiday, maybe this is their way of making it up to them. When it comes to the NBA, there's no such thing as too many assets.

In the long run, this could very well be a big nothing burger. The Celtics couldn't get Olynyk back when they had the assets to get him last year. His contract is even more tradeable than it was then, but it's even more complicated for the Celtics to get him back via trade now. Nonetheless, this report is something worth harkening back to when Olynyk's trade market inevitably starts to heat up.