MIAMI — As his style, Kelly Olynyk greeted the Miami media rocking the customary backward baseball cap after practice Friday. The sun beamed through the Heat’s practice facility on this October day, quite a contrast from those cold winter days in Waltham.
Olynyk will face what’s left of his former team Saturday when the Heat host the Celtics. Only four players from Olynyk’s 2016-17 team remain — Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier — but his memories of his four years in Boston are strong.
And his bond with coach Brad Stevens is even stronger.
When Olynyk’s contract was going to be renounced for the Celtics to make room to sign Gordon Hayward, Stevens talked the big man through the entire process, offering all the possibilities.
When Olynyk returned to Boston for a charity event in September, he and Stevens hugged tightly and carried on a long conversation. What’s more, Stevens called Olynyk just a few days ago to check on his progress in Miami.
“It’s fun, kind of gives you a little extra excitement and purpose for the game,” Olynyk said of Saturday. “It’s fun just to get an opportunity to go out there and play and they’re a great team, so it’s a great test for us.”
Olynyk harbors no ill feelings about how it ended in Boston. He’s too laid back to ever carry grudges. The Heat quickly signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract to become one of their top reserves. Through four games, he is averaging 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in about 22 minutes per game. His Celtics’ numbers were strikingly similar.
“Our chemistry with the second unit is very seamless,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked why he brings Olynyk off the bench. “And it’s not by accident. KO’s a guy that guys like playing with. He likes making the game easier for his teammates. He’s highly skilled and can shoot the ball, space the floor, and that will only continue to get better.”
Olynyk’s four years in Boston were filled with highs and lows. There were injuries, some bungled plays, the mixup with Kevin Love, but also some monumental 3-pointers and finally that 26-point game in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Washington.
Obviously, the emergence of budding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, drafted two spots after Olynyk in 2013, perhaps diminishes Olynyk’s accomplishments. But the Gonzaga product did turn into a capable and productive rotation player, and his laid-back, carefree personality was ever present and refreshing in an NBA where guys can get tense under the pressure of performing.
Other than having some issues with his new place because of Hurricane Irma last month, OIynyk is enjoying the Miami culture.
“I’ve never really lived in a climate like this,” said Olynyk, who grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia. “People ask me if I’m going to miss the cold in the winter [in Boston] and we have a few games in cold climates. We’ll get there. It’s something different. It’s something to enjoy. Who knows when you’ll be able to live in a place like this again? It’s uplifting to walk outside every morning and your bones and your joints feel warm. The sun is shining. You get some vitamins. It’s awesome. When I played for the Celtics, we always loved coming on these types of trips.”
What Olynyk treasured most from his experience in Boston was his relationship with Stevens, who became a mentor and guide. Olynyk joins a long list of players who have lauded Stevens for his instruction on and off the floor.
There is no animosity between Olynyk and the organization, only positive feelings because of that deep bond.
“I’ve always been good with Coach Stevens,” he said. “First and foremost, Coach Stevens is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met in the world. Top to bottom. Good day, bad day. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, he’s an unbelievable human being. It doesn’t matter what situation is thrown at him, what the circumstances are, win, loss, he is one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever come across in my life.
“I talked to him the other day and there’s a lot of things I’ve learned in Boston and I’ve taken from Boston and from him that you don’t even really appreciate until you’re removed from it. You really realize, and I told him this, I can’t thank him enough for how much he instilled whatever it was, habits, work ethic, just a way of thinking and a way of being in life into me the last four years — especially being a young guy and being able to be molded.
“I think he was a key cog in my development. As much as you don’t see it at the time, when you’re removed, you appreciate everything that he does.”