Kelly Olynyk is having one of his best seasons in his 10th trip around the block, and he swears it’s not to get back at Danny Ainge.
The Jazz basketball CEO was president of hoop operations for the Celtics in 2017 when he renounced any rights to Olynyk to help create space to sign Gordon Hayward, a free agent from, coincidentally, the Jazz. Now pulling the strings in Utah, Ainge dealt away Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and others to sink toward the bottom of the NBA tank and get a higher draft pick.
The problem is, the guys he assembled played really well out of the gate, necessitating the trade of more talent at the deadline. As of Wednesday with three games left, the Jazz are still in the race for the play-in tournament, despite losses in seven of their last eight games.
But Olynyk, averaging 12.2 points and shooting a crisp 39.1% on 3-pointers, laughingly dismissed the revenge factor in a conversation with Heavy Sports.
“Nah,” he said, “for me, it’s just about playing as well as I can and helping these guys learn what it is to compete at the highest level. We’ve got a lot of young guys here, and I’m just trying to help them grow. Obviously it is what it is, but it’s fun to be reunited with Danny. He’s obviously a great person. He brought me into this league. It’s fun to be back with him in a different setting, different role, just trying to help this team get back to where it wants to be.
“I’m sure the Celtics would have liked to keep me back then, but it’s kind of the way the business works with the salary cap and all that. I was just kind of a casualty. It happens.”
Olynyk Was Interested in Boston Return
Olynyk moved on to Miami and an appearance in the 2020 Bubble Finals and made ensuing stops in Houston, Detroit and now Salt Lake City. He admits his interest was certainly piqued in February when it was reported by Heavy Sports that the Celtics were exploring the possibility of a reunion with the floor-stretching big man.
“I mean, I love Boston,” Olynyk said. “I grew up in Boston basically, coming out of college and starting my professional career. I have nothing but great things to say about the city, the organization, everybody involved. It feels like home every time I come back. When you see those kind of rumors, it brings up great memories. It’s a city that has unbelievable people, fans, culture, all that.
“So you always think, ‘What if? Maybe it could happen.’ But you obviously have to focus on the now and what you’re doing. I’m definitely not trying to get out of anywhere. This is a great situation to be a part of with this team, but your mind can’t help but wander for a second when you hear about things.”
Jazz Asking Price Too High on Olynyk
It’s a measure of how much Olynyk is valued in Utah that the asking price for him was too high to make a deal work. He showed that worth when he went for 20-plus points three times in the Jazz’ 10-3 start that put them atop the Western Conference, and he’s continued to be a consistent threat alongside Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson.
“It’s been a good year in a lot of ways,” Olynyk said. “It’s fun — especially when everyone counts you out and doubts you — to go out there and win and make noise and prove to people that we have guys in that locker room that can play, and play at a high level. It was a lot of fun.
“Unfortunately we had some injuries and lost some close games. But it was fun. The start of the year was a lot of fun, just playing well, great vibe. That’s what you hope for when you’re in this league and in this situation. Being in this league this long, you know it’s not always like that, so it’s fun to be a part of it when you get that chance.”
There’s still a chance the fun will continue into the postseason for Olynyk and the Jazz.
“There’s a lot of parity. Especially in the West, it’s not like it’s super top heavy. You win a few games and you could have homecourt in the playoffs; you lose a few and you’re out. We were right there. We were in the mix.”