Veteran forward Danilo Gallinari has amassed about $175 million in salary during his 14-year NBA career, so when he began to consider options as a likely free agent this week, money was hardly his primary concern.
On Thursday, according to a league source, he told those close to him that the only thing that could truly change his career at this point is an NBA championship ring. He said that was his lone goal and motivation.
So even though the Celtics will be unable to offer as much as other potential suitors, a league source said, the fact that they fell just two wins short of an NBA title two weeks ago will make them too good to pass up. According to multiple league sources, if Gallinari is released by the Spurs and clears waivers, as expected, he will likely agree to a two-year, $13 million deal with Boston.
The situation is somewhat complicated because Gallinari is not technically a free agent. His $21.4 million salary with the Hawks was slated to become fully guaranteed if he was not waived by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and Atlanta had no intention of paying that full salary.
Then the Hawks agreed to trade Gallinari to the Spurs in the deal that brought All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray to Atlanta. To complete this deal, Gallinari’s guaranteed salary had to be increased for salary-matching purposes, and the deadline for his full guarantee needed to be pushed back. These alterations required Gallinari’s consent, giving him some control over the deal, and a league source said the Spurs indicated that they intended to waive Gallinari and granted him permission to begin meeting with other teams, even though he remained under contract with them.
As of Friday morning, league sources said, Gallinari had not been officially waived by the Spurs yet because Murray had yet to complete his mandatory physical exam with the Hawks.
Gallinari is able to discuss contracts with other teams during this time, but he cannot accept an official offer. But this process is likely just a formality. Once Gallinari clears waivers, 48 hours after being released, he would be eligible to sign with the Celtics, and there is strong interest on both sides to complete the deal quickly, sources said.
Gallinari was a longtime favorite of former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. According to league sources, if Gordon Hayward had not signed with Boston in 2017, Gallinari likely would have ended up with the Celtics. Then when Hayward went to the Hornets via sign-and-trade in 2020, there was some discussion about acquiring Gallinari from the Thunder using the team’s newly created $28.5 million trade exception, sources said.
A league source said Friday that Gallinari is hopeful he will be able to finish his career as a Celtic.
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said last week that Boston was focused on adding some scoring punch to its bench, and Gallinari certainly fills that role. He is a career 38.2-percent 3-point shooter and this past year averaged 11.7 points on just 25.3 minutes per game for Atlanta. His sharpshooting should ease some of the scoring burden on Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Gallinari is a below-average defender, but the Celtics likely believe they can surround him with enough power at that end of the floor to cover for his weaknesses.
Gallinari was reportedly receiving strong interest from the Bulls. Chicago could offer a bit more money than Boston can, and the team is led by Gallinari’s former coach with the Thunder, Billy Donovan. But Boston is clearly closer to being an NBA championship team, and that appears to be what Gallinari is truly seeking.