Danilo Gallinari was the Boston Celtics big free agency splash last summer. Joining from the Atlanta Hawks on the mid-level exception, Gallinari was supposed to fill the “shooting with size” gap in the team’s roster construction.
The Celtics were looking to get taller while adding another floor-spacer into the rotation, especially one who could attack close-out by taking a couple of dribbles before sinking a mid-range jumper.
Unfortunately, the sharpshooting forward never suited up for his new team. Over the summer, Gallinari tore his ACL while representing Italy at the FIBA EuroBasket tournament. For a moment, there was a slither of hope he would be ready for the playoffs. But after ten months on the sidelines, injecting him into the rotation made little sense, especially when it was risking his long-term availability, too.
Almost a year after signing with the Celtics, Brad Stevens shipped Gallinari to the Washington Wizards as part of the deal to acquire Kristaps Porzingis. That trade already looks like a great piece of business for the Celtics. For Gallinari, it’s allowing him to cement a bench role within the Wizards rotation.
The Celtics and Wizards went toe-to-toe on October 30. The primary storyline was Porzingis facing his old team. Lost in the shuffle was the fact Gallinari was going through the same experience.
After the game, the veteran forward discussed his time with the Celtics with The Athletic’s Jay King. During their discussion, Gallinari detailed his belief that he could have been the difference maker against the Miami Heat — who the Celtics fell to in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series.
“I thought we had the chance to win it. I thought, especially during the series with Miami, I could have helped a lot,” Gallinari said. “... Just the way that they played defense, the way that they prepared the game against us, I thought that offensively, I could have helped the team a lot. Especially playing against their zone.”
Despite being unable to suit up and help his team, Gallinari holds his tenure with the franchise in high regard. After joining during one of the team's most turbulent periods in recent memory, Gallinari saw the desire and growth within the roster. He created relationships that have continued since heading to Washington.
“From Joe (Mazzulla) to all the trainers and the people that worked with me rehabbing, which is a tough process, long process,” Gallinari told King. “All the relationships I was able to create were great, even if I was there just for one season. I still talk to those guys, and I’m glad we were able to build something outside of basketball, bigger than basketball.”
Throughout last season, a common theme coming out of the team was the unity in the locker room. The “Bus One Boys” emerged, giving fans a feel-good factor and content that lifted spirits as the team navigated rough patches. Seasoned veteran Blake Griffin spoke glowingly of his time with the Celtics.
“Dude, Boston is unbelievable. Living in [Boston], playing in Boston, was like, one of the best experiences,” Griffin told Dan Rappoport of Barstool Sports. “The fans are incredible, having a team that is so championship focused, they do everything. The players on that team are just like such a great group of guys — everyone’s all different.”
With the dust of Gallinari’s trade now settled and the veteran forward adjusting to his new role in Washington, it’s clear there are no hard feelings about how things went down. Stevens made a trade that puts the Celtics one step closer to raising a championship banner. Porzingis is an All-Star and slots into how the team wants to play perfectly.
As such, Gallinari is focusing on his current situation and what the future holds for him. ACL injuries are always a concern in professional sports. Medical advances have lessened their impact on players’ careers, but Gallinari’s age certainly played a role in his recovery. That’s why he’s happy to be back on the court and playing regular basketball again, regardless of what happened over the summer.
“I think it’s early, but just being back on the court for me, that was the main thing after not playing basketball for 13 or 14 months,” Gallinari said. “Just being able to play basketball is great...It’s good to take a look at the past. But now we’re here, and the present and the future is ahead.”
Things didn’t go as planned for Boston or their free-agent addition last season. Yet, things worked themselves out quite well for everyone involved. Gallinari can still be an impactful veteran in the NBA. With the Wizards, he's getting the chance to embrace a leadership role along with enjoying being back on the court.
Hopefully, he doesn’t enjoy playing against the Celtics too much in their remaining games this season.