NEW YORK — As his temporary teammates went through a simple practice at Long Island University-Brooklyn on Thursday evening, Celtics 7-footer Kelly Olynyk sat on the bench next to a fluffy NBA mascot.
Olynyk was selected to play in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge, but he remains sidelined with a right ankle injury. Still, he elected to attend All-Star Weekend even though he can’t participate in much of the festivities.
Before Thursday’s basic practice session, Olynyk took part in some shooting contests as a loud emcee tried to explain the nature of the contests. But few people in the stands seemed to care about the rules or the score. Mostly, the fans just wanted to take pictures of players such as Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Andrew Wiggins.
Olynyk shot a few 18-footers from the baseline. Then he hoisted a few shots from the elbow and attempted some 3-pointers. When they started some drills that required more movement, Olynyk took a seat.
“I was really looking forward to [playing], but right now it’s in my best interest to take some time and have this break,” Olynyk said. “Taking time to just get as healthy as I can. You never know with this thing. Sometimes you’re almost [ready to return] for two or three weeks. You never know.”
For now, Olynyk is targeting the Celtics’ practice in Sacramento next Wednesday as his return date. That will be the start of the team’s final West Coast road trip this season.
Over the past 13 seasons, All-Star Weekend has always had a green hue. Sometimes it overflowed with Celtics, like when Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all made the 2011 All-Star team. Other times it was more like in 2007, when the Celtics did not have an All-Star, but Gerald Green stepped in and won the slam dunk contest.
But this year will be the first since 2001 without a Celtic as a full participant. During Thursday’s Rising Stars practice, a fan in a Garnett Celtics jersey was pulled from the crowd to attempt a few halfcourt shots with players. And the Celtics’ mascot, Lucky, clapped his hands and did some flips. And Olynyk hoisted a few jump shots.
But that’s mostly where the Celtics’ impact on this four-day party will end. It is partly the result of having a young roster in flux, and partly just an anomaly, because there are plenty of events and plenty of players from struggling teams taking part.
Olynyk had hoped to play in Friday’s exhibition, but he understood that his health was most important. He acknowledged that recovery from this sprain has dragged on longer than he had expected, but he suffered a similar injury last year and understands these situations can be fickle.
Olynyk was hurt during the Celtics’ Jan. 22 game at Portland. He said he could not walk without assistance for four or five days afterward, and his mother came to Boston to help take care of him.
He would undergo treatment twice a day and then go home and watch the Celtics games on television. He eventually mixed in strength and range-of-motion exercises and is now able to take some shots. But he knows the greatest challenge will come at a full practice.
“Nothing is the same as playing,” Olynyk said.
Olynyk has been encouraged by the Celtics’ recent play. Boston has won four of its last five games, including an impressive 89-88 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night.
After a flurry of trades, the roster has remained intact for about a month, and even that short stretch has provided some welcome continuity.
“I think everyone’s kind of settled into a role and knows what we need to do to win, and what every guy needs to bring every night,” Olynyk said.
“It’s tough when you have a trade and all of a sudden you’re putting new guys in and you’ve never played with him before, don’t know what he does and he doesn’t know what you do . . . But once you have game time, practice time, you can come together and start to jell.”
Like the rest of the Celtics, though, Olynyk understands that the trade deadline is approaching, and that what seems stable today might not be stable tomorrow.
“We’ve got a great group that’s really come together and likes playing with each other, for each other,” Olynyk said. “And [head coach Brad Stevens] has done a good job, so for right now, we’re just going to keep moving forward. I think we’re on an upward climb.”