Boston Celtics forward Danilo Gallinari kept alive hopes of a postseason return Thursday while suggesting that possibility has motivated him in the six months since undergoing ACL surgery.
Gallinari routinely posts videos of his progress on social media, which has sparked conversation about whether he might eventually make a surprise return should Boston made a deep playoff run.
"Playoffs, it's still in my head. So that’s something that I’m looking forward to it," the 34-year-old Gallinari said Thursday after the Celtics’ off-day practice. "I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not, but, on a motivation standpoint, it’s always something that motivates me more. But I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not."
Later, he added, "A lot of steps that need to be done before you play an actual game. And even maybe after all those steps, you are not ready for a playoff game because when you don’t play the whole season and then be ready to play a playoff game is not easy for anybody, not just body-wise but mentally-wise. But like I said, it might happen. So we’ll see."
Gallinari, who tore his ACL while playing for Italy in FIBA competition, said his rehab remains on schedule since his late-September surgery. He admitted he still "has a long ways to go," but he’s clearly hopeful that his knee could get to a spot where he could at least play a tiny role.
Teammate Derrick White admitted he’s keeping an eye on Gallinari whenever he’s on the floor.
"He's working hard and he doesn't seem to miss any time I watch him shoot," said White. "I know he's working towards it and it's good to see him moving around and doing things that we're used to seeing Gallo do."
Last week, Celtics assistant general manager Austin Ainge said that you never close the door on a rehabbing player, especially when he’s using that as motivation.
"It's one of those things that you don't count on it but you're hopeful and you never rule a guy out," said Ainge. "He’s working hard every day."
Most players with a potential season-long injury tend to rehab in the shadows and are not around the team often. Gallinari has been a constant with the team, even during road travels since getting the OK to be on the road.
"Well, first of all, the trainers that are following and helping my rehab are the same trainers that work with other guys. So it makes it so much easier logistically just to stay with the team of course," said Gallinari. "And then, from a team standpoint and mental standpoint, it’s better when you approach a rehab like this to stay closer to the team, the better. So that’s the choice we made together, that I made at the beginning of the season, that as soon as I was able, they gave me to go-ahead to travel with the team, do it."
And how can Gallinari help this team?
"Just by staying with them in practice and being able to follow the meetings and following the team closer," he said. "Being on the bench and seeing what the coaches want, what the players are able to do, the game plans and everything. So just during the game talking to players and coaches about the game plan and stuff that I see that they could individually do better."
Gallinari has a player option for next year and seems likely to be back in Boston for the 2023-24 season. And, despite his advanced age, he stressed there’s a lot left in the tank for him.
"Of course, at this stage maybe you want to push a little more. But at the same time, yes, I’m older, but I’m far from being done with basketball," said Gallinari. "So you don’t want to risk it too much, because you’re not that young, but you still have some years to play.
"So you just want to do it the best way, just listening to your knee, and whatever the knee is telling you, that’s the path you’ve got to follow and the things you’ve got to do day by day."