R.J. Hunter’s career has officially come full circle, as the former first-round pick of the Celtics signed a two-way contract with the team on Wednesday.
Hunter, 25, was waived by the Hawks in October. A star at Georgia State, Hunter was projected to be a long-range shooter and swingman for the Celtics when he was drafted 28th overall in 2015.
But Hunter’s skills were slow to develop, he eventually lost confidence, and then he lost his roster spot to James Young prior to the 2016-17 season. After that, Hunter experienced a basketball sojourn, playing with Windy City, Long Island, Rio Grande, and Erie of the G-League.
Since December 2016, Hunter has been waived by the Bulls, Rockets, and most recently the Hawks. He has played in just eight NBA games since leaving the Celtics, and he’s hoping this will be a real second chance with Boston.
“It’s just a crazy feeling, especially when this league has such a short attention span,” Hunter said in a text message. “For Danny [Ainge] and those guys to keep tabs on me and my development, and offer me another opportunity three years later, means a ton to me.”
Hunter’s attitude and bubbly personality kept him in the good graces of Celtics management, but he struggled on the floor. During the Las Vegas Summer League in 2016, Hunter was expected to take a major step forward against rookie, second-year, and free agent competition, but instead he faltered, especially in a matchup against Phoenix’s Devin Booker.
During the next training camp, the Celtics had one roster spot remaining, with Hunter and Young, their first-round pick in 2014, in competition. The organization felt Young had made better progress and kept him, but he eventually was not tendered a contract after the 2017-18 season.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens could not comment on the signing of Hunter because it was not yet official with the NBA, but Hunter is expected to arrive in Boston on Thursday and report to G-League Maine on Friday.
With a two-way contract, Hunter can play with the NBA team a maximum of 45 days. After that, he would be required to sign a full NBA contract or remain on the G-League roster. The Celtics had an open two-way contract to offer after waiving Walter Lemon in November. They had until Jan. 15 to fill that spot. P.J. Dozier fills the Celtics’ other two-way slot.
The Celtics have a need for perimeter shooting, and that remains Hunter’s specialty. He averaged 22 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists this season for Erie, shooting 34.4 percent from the 3-point line. He has played in 104 G-League games.
Stevens said center Al Horford will be on a minutes restriction to preserve his bothersome left knee for the long term, with an eye on keeping him fresh for the postseason.
“We’re trying to keep him within 27, 28 minutes,” said Stevens. “We don’t want to backlog 36-minute games, but he’s already played nine straight [overall]. He feels good. He looks good. We did this with [Marcus] Morris last year, and by March Morris felt great and really played well, obviously. It’s a similar plan.”
Stevens said there is no plan to have Horford miss games to rest. The coach pointed out that various injuries have created rest for key players. What’s more, of the team’s regular rotation, only Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jayson Tatum have played in all 40 games, including Wednesday night’s against Indiana. Morris (4 missed games), Kyrie Irving (4), Gordon Hayward (4), Horford (10), and Jaylen Brown (5) all have gotten breaks because of injuries.
“We probably would have say Kyrie here for a couple of games, but the eye [injury] happens and he got a chance to get off his legs two [games],” Stevens said. “We’ll see as this stretch continues. This an intense stretch of games against good teams. We’ll see what that brings us.”
The Pacers were without center Myles Turner, the NBA blocked shots leader, for a third consecutive game with a shoulder injury. Darren Collison was considered a game-time decision because of a leg injury but was in the starting lineup . . . Aron Baynes is making progress from his fractured left hand and could return next week. He is the lone Celtic on the injury report.