On Monday night, the Boston Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards in Game 7. Isaiah Thomas was fantastic for Boston, as was Al Horford. Bradley Beal was magnificent for Washington, and John Wall continued scorching the earth beneath his feet on every transition drive. These four are the de facto stars for their respective franchises, and they played like stars on Monday. They are also not the people that are dominating the news right now. That is because Kelly Olynyk stole the show. He scored 26 points off the bench, more than five times what the Wizards’ entire bench produced (5). Kelly Olynyk, he of the impossibly-oafish hand-eye co-ordination, was the hottest man in the NBA for about a day and a half.
Before explaining what I mean by “hottest,” I will explain what I DON’T mean:
In this case, “hottest” does not mean most attractive. In fact, in any case, where Kelly Olynyk is described as hot, I guarantee it does not mean attractive because Kelly Olynyk is straight up fugly. He has a face, a goatee, and a man-bun only a mother could love. “Hottest” also does not mean being of the highest temperature. Most men in the NBA have body temperatures around 98.6 degrees. Kelly Olynyk is one of those. You know who doesn’t have a body temperature of 98.6 degrees? Wizards’ GM Ernie Grunfeld, because he’s sitting on a seat made of literal fire. He traded the ‘Zards’ first-rounder for Bojan Bogdanovic at the trade deadline, and Bojan repaid him with a +/- of -19 in just 16 minutes in the biggest game of the season. Yikes.
Sometimes people use the word “hot” to indicate that a particular car is stolen, implying that a car that is like, super, super stolen would be the hottest car. That’s not what I mean here. Kelly Olynyk is not a car, and he’s certainly not a stolen car, because if Kelly Olynyk was a car, he’d be a 1996 Chevy Sportvan, and that is a car that has never been stolen, by anyone, ever.
No, in this case, I am using the word “hottest” to mean “rapidly increasing in value and popularity,” like a stock, or an app or the New York nightclubs Bill Hader’s Stefon raves about. Nobody gave a shit about Kelly Olynyk prior to this game. He was an afterthought, a gumpy bench player whose hair gained more attention than his game. On Tuesday, though Olynyk is a media darling who probably just made himself an extra $20 million dollars. This is the last year on Olynyk’s rookie contract, meaning he will become an unrestricted free-agent this summer. Following Monday’s 26-point explosion on national television, it felt likely that someone would wildly overpay him this summer. Some GM would have seen that game, and immediately started imagining Olynyk replicating that production for their team next season.
Those GM’s were given a reality check on Wednesday night when Olynyk returned to his usual embarrassing form. He was no longer hot. He was the opposite of that. He was cold.
He was abused by LeBron James when he attempted to guard him, bullied by Tristan Thompson when he tried to rebound and laughed at by everyone on Cleveland’s bench when he tried to do anything remotely threatening on offense. He sucked. All the glory of his Monday performance was immediately washed away by the mediocrity of his Wednesday game. The inconsistency of his production is what makes Olynyk a fascinating case study in the value of a modern NBA big man. On the one hand, he’s a 7-footer who can shoot 3’s, a precious commodity in today’s league, but on the other hand, he can’t defend anyone, hardly rebounds, and vanishes for entire games at a time. Someone will pay him this summer, but the question is how much?
Fellow members of his draft class recently signed extensions, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo, who inked a four-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks worth $100 million. That deal pays Giannis an average of $25 million per year. Kelly Olynyk is not getting Giannis money. Following his Game 7 explosion, Kelly was probably looking at something similar to Ian Mahinmi’s contract with an average yearly salary of $16 million per year. He completely outplayed Mahinmi during Monday’s game, and throughout the series in general. Mahinmi is not a good basketball player. Then again, nor is Olynyk. Olynyk has been a backup for his entire professional career so far, and that’s not particularly impressive considering the man starting ahead of him, Amir Johnson, has not seen his ankles in half a dozen years.
Last year, $16 million a year for Olynyk would have been regarded as market price, though probably a slight overpay. The market for serviceable 7-footers who can walk and chew gum at the same time was wildly inflated last offseason, as guys like Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov were given contracts far more generous than their production warranted. That market has cooled off, but as the league transitions to a style that puts more value in big men who can shoot from the outside, Olynyk remains an intriguing asset.
$16 million a year for him this summer would likely be ridiculed, and it is unlikely the Celtics will want to pony up the cash necessary to retain Olynyk, especially if they are able to sign Gordon Hayward. Boston GM Danny Ainge has done a good job of maintaining cap space in recent years and it would be a break from his usual modus operandi to give starter’s money to a career backup. Look for Olynyk to sign something in the area of 3 years/$45 million. Whichever team offers that deal will be hoping he develops into a starter, but it remains unclear whether he’s capable of that. In any case, here’s hoping he shows up for the rest of the Eastern Conference Finals.
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