The Kelly Olynyk experience in Boston has been a maze between injuries, hope and astonishment alongside numerous switches from man-buns to headbands.
It was an adventure from the beginning, when the Celtics swapped a rookie with a dazzling head of hair, Lucas Nogueria, in the 2013 NBA Draft along with two second-rounders for a seven-footer out of Gonzaga. Dirk Nowitzki comparisons spawned, yet what followed was more comparable to Jeff Green’s career in Boston than the legend’s playing time in Dallas.
Nobody could see it that night, as Olynyk and his blond locks were not even present for the selection. As Nogueria placed his Celts cap (that he wouldn’t need for long) atop his afro, the Cs were actually getting an even more intriguing head of hair.
In time Celts fans would see what he was made of: an oddly intriguing mix of awkwardness and skill that would converge to make him a surprise villain when he accidentally pulled Kevin Love’s arm out of its socket in the 2015 playoffs, as well as a staple in Cs lore for his extraordinary Game 7 shooting performance against the Wizards in 2017.
The same player who infuriated Celts fans to no end by trying to pump-fake invisible defenders had enough skill to almost entirely take down the Wizards on his own in one of the biggest games of the Brad Stevens era.
He followed it up by proceeding to shoot 40 percent overall and 20 percent from three-point land against the Cavaliers in their Eastern Conference Finals.
Olynyk’s sporadic career has largely been defined by his position in the team’s rotation. His shooting, size, passing ability, and poise within the system’s defense would seemingly make him a shoe-in for their starting front court. Instead he’s been relegated to a position of excellent bench production, not quite the makings of a starter. He’s only started 36 of his 278 games in green, a hair over 12 percent.
For that reason, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Olynyk does not get away from the Celtics this summer. The end of his rookie deal, combined with Boston’s desire to add talent while consolidating its roster, likely make addressing his free agency outside their top priorities.
Olynyk has left no shortage of memories. He clearly established himself as part of the team’s brass when he killed it in a tie-dye t-shirt on the Tom Brady-led excursion to the Hamptons for Boston’s Kevin Durant pitch. He’s maintained an extremely even-keeled personality in green, maybe even too much for what his hair would seem to indicate. Can’t judge a book, as they say.
That made it all the more strange when he was painted in a villainous light nationally following incidents involving Love and his more recent dust-up with Kelly Oubre Jr., who shoved Olynyk to the ground and earned himself a one-game suspension after getting pummeled on a screen.
Brad Stevens and other members of the Celts almost seemed astonished that Olynyk, often getting called upon locally to be more aggressive, was getting labeled “dirty” around the league. Draymond Green of all people even chimed in with his thoughts, saying he had no respect for how Olynyk plays the game.
The discrepancy in viewpoints was always funny. It’s hard to find an Olynyk quote from his time in Boston that raises a single hair on an eyebrow. He had little to say after the Oubre incident. Within the community, Olynyk is one of the more visible participants in charitable efforts by the team.
Money matters though, and despite all the goodwill Olynyk has earned, the numbers the Celts are trying to crunch and the raise he has earned through four NBA seasons might not add up. The Celts have been continuously linked to free agent Gordon Hayward, and another report hinted that the Celts are aiming to add an All-Star talent to their front court.
Both of those offseason ambitions, combined with the fact that Olynyk fits the mold of a modern big man that could help any offense, would indicate that he might slip away in the early days of this offseason. His free agency is a case of bad timing as the Cs focus elsewhere.
Boston does have a qualifying offer that they can use to assert leverage over Olynyk. Considering that it is $4.28 million, there’s almost no chance he would accept it. That would leave him in the restricted free agent limbo, where teams have to commit cap space in the form of an offer sheet through the entire start of free agency (moratorium and a two-day matching window for Boston).
The other side to the money issue is that the Cs have a $7.7 million cap hold on Olynyk until they renounce him, after which he would become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign anywhere. If the Celts want to ink Hayward for a $30.9 million max contract next year, renouncing Olynyk will be one of the key steps in that process.
Olynyk stated in his exit interview that he would love to be back and that Boston is a situation that makes him better. A return is not out of the question, but with the Cs looking to upgrade, that only pushes him further down the roster when there are situations around the league he could probably start in next year.
The money is out there, as well as the opportunity, and that’s what being a free agent is all about. The Celtics and Olynyk gave each other a boost, Boston with their rebuild and Olynyk with the start to his career. The time is probably right for both to seek brighter horizons for their futures. If this is the end, Olynyk got to have his signature moment in Boston. Game 7 vs. Washington will live on forever as the night Olynyk finally fulfilled every bit of his potential.
“I know I can do that kind of stuff,” he said. “Play with that kind of purpose, put things on the floor, score the basketball, be a key cog in a team.”