BOSTON — Neemias Queta appeared at Auerbach Center in practice gear on Monday morning. After missing the opening ten games of the Celtics season, he joined assistant coach Amile Jefferson and shot layups off both feet, took some jumpshots and ran through defensive drills with additional staff.
“I’m excited for game one at the Garden,” he told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog later that night. “That’s really what I want to be able to be up for. Getting embraced by the fans and just playing in that home environment and getting used to this arena. That’s the main thing for me.”
Queta participated in the last 3-4 practices with the Celtics and will join them on their four-game road trip as he did on the last one. While no timeline exists for his return, he’s feeling better, with a reduction in pain that had initially sidelined him following a strong preseason that positioned him to remain with the pro Celtics as a fourth big man option after signing with Boston on a two-way contract. He’s listed as questionable tonight against the 76ers.
He averaged 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 86.7% in the preseason, receiving praise from Al Horford for his finishing and activity around the net. The prospect of the 24-year-old leapfrogging Luke Kornet on the depth chart always seemed like a long shot. Particularly since Kornet’s play improved in recent weeks and Joe Mazzulla leaned on trusted long-time Celtics Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser and Kornet over newcomers like Oshae Brissett and others who largely haven’t joined the rotation. Queta, however, made strides in the G-League last season and brought a physicality and athletic dimension to a position that requires some load management for Horford.
“It just depends on how it feels,” Queta told CLNS/CelticsBlog in Philadelphia. “How it recovers after days of harder work. We’ll go day-by-day and see how it goes. Hopefully, it’ll be soon ... it sucks ... (but you) gotta be mature and we gotta be able to adjust to all the situations that come your way. I feel like this’ll be a year full of adversity, but at the same time, there’s stuff I gotta be able to deal with. I’m really not too concerned about it. I’m trying to stay locked in through the process, keep learning all the stuff I can besides just playing. I can watch, I can talk, I can listen.”
Queta, the first NBA player from Portugal, initially suffered the injury in July playing for the Kings in Summer League. Tests revealed a stress fracture and sprain that ended his Las Vegas stint early. Sacramento waived him later that summer after two seasons when the opportunity to sign Javale McGee emerged. Queta, the No. 39 pick in the 2021 draft after a record-breaking career at Utah State, mostly spent time with the G-League Stockton Kings. He averaged 16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.9 blocks last season, finishing second in G-League MVP voting behind Chicago’s Carlik Jones.
Joe Mazzulla said on Friday that Queta got closer after some on-court work on Thursday. Within the next few days, the team expects to perform another test to track his progress. At this point, he appears past the recovery stage and focused on returning to form in every area.
They’ve increased his workload through each session — and he’s reported no setbacks, but for a rolling team that’s already struggled to find time for Dalano Banton, Lamar Stevens and others, his most playing time could come in Maine. That he’s not simply rehabbing with the G-League squad lends hope for a different outcome.
“Just trying to go slowly with it and I feel like we’re doing a great job so far,” he said. “I’m not trying to get ahead of the process ... be around the team, increase the capacity and soon enough…I don’t want to really set a timeline ... you never really know. It could be sooner than you think, or it could take its time.”