WALTHAM — The meeting was completely spontaneous. Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga was working out with Marcus Smart in a Miami gym while Shane Larkin was on the adjacent court working with Tim Hardaway Sr.
Larkin was in the middle of a contract decision, determining whether to return to Spanish team Baskonia, where he boosted his stock by averaging 13.6 points and 5.3 assists in 63 games last season. Baskonia had matched a $6.3 million offer from FC Barcelona Lassa, but Larkin wanted a change.
The Celtics were interested, enticed by his pick-and-roll ability, athleticism, and experience. Larkin also played for Larranaga’s father, Jim, at the University of Miami.
“I had known [Jay] for a while but we really didn’t connect until this summer,” Larkin said. “We’ve kind of been building a relationship. I’ve been close with the family since I was 15, when [Jim] started recruiting me. Just being able to have somebody that you know around here every single day and know they have your best interest is good, it makes you comfortable to play your game.”
The 5-foot-11-inch, 175-pound Larkin turned down Baskonia to sign a minimum deal (
Larkin played sparingly his rookie season and also battled an ankle injury. He was then traded to the Knicks in the Tyson Chandler deal, where we was primarily a reserve. The next summer he signed with the Nets.
After putting up solid numbers in Brooklyn — 7.3 points and 4.4 assists in 22.4 minutes per game in 2015-16 — Larkin was under the impression that he would land a lucrative free agent contract. But the market dried up quickly last summer after those megadeals were handed out, and Larkin was relegated to training camp invites. He ended up with Baskonia.
“In all honestly, going overseas makes you just grow in every single aspect of your game,” Larkin said. “When I went over there, my first couple of games I was being tentative, trying to figure out my teammates. My coach [Sito Alonso] sat me down and said, ‘We brought you over here because you’re an NBA player and you’re just supposed to [flourish].’ Once he told me that, I started scoring. Just going over there and having that responsibility again of being that guy.
“A lot in my career I just deferred to the guys I was on the court with, guys like Dirk [Nowitzki] and [Carmelo Anthony]. But you’ve got to be a weapon out there as well. I went over there and got my confidence back, my mentality back.”
Larkin was named ACC Player of the Year in 2013 for leading Miami to the Sweet 16 as a sophomore. He admitted that he lost confidence when he didn’t make a smooth adjustment to the NBA.
A season in Spain helped resurrect his confidence and reputation.
“First of all, I love the way he plays,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s got a great pace to him. He can get into the paint on anybody. He’s got a beautiful floater, which every small guy needs to have. He’s just got a great way about it. I was talking to a coach about him. He really floats. He is an athlete. When he’s moving, he can push tempo but he can also change gears.
“I’m a big fan of Shane Larkin. I think that he’ll be really impactful for us.”
Larkin projects as the third point guard behind Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier, but Stevens said he envisions scenarios where he would go extra small, with Larkin pairing with either Irving or Rozier in the backcourt.
His acquisition was overshadowed in a busy Celtics offseason, but early in training camp he has performed as if he belongs in the NBA.
“It’s always a good thing to have an extra ballhandler and everybody said he was one of the best point guards in Europe last year,” Jay Larranaga said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to get a quality player and a great opportunity for him to be in a really good situation.
“For every player coming into the NBA, you have to find your role on your team and find out how you can add to winning and it might not be the same role you had in college. But the good players figure it out quicker than others and I think Shane has learned a lot from his previous experiences.”
Larkin said his enthusiasm and vigor are renewed. He could have stayed in Europe, earned more money, and starred in the EuroLeague. But the former high school rival of Austin Rivers wanted more for himself. He seeks to prove he can flourish on the biggest stage, and playing for his college coach’s son does offer some comfort and familiarity.
“I feel like when I’m on the court, regardless of who I’m on the court with and how long, I’m going to make those impact plays that can help the team win,” he said. “I feel mentally I grew back into being that [top] dog, or whatever you want to call it, that I was coming out of college.”