August 12, 2022

You cannot insert a square peg into a round hole. It’s impossible. A younger, more stubborn self would tell you it’s all about angle, leverage, and stubborn optimism. The self that stands before you today knows that this is a race only a fool would do.

You can, however, insert a triangular peg into a square hole. It’s much easier. This, indeed, is a matter of angle and leverage, and optimism does not have to be so stubborn as suspicious. There are dependent factors at play – the size of the peg relative to the size of the hole is a major factor, both in terms of width and depth – but it’s not so much a foolish chase as a Workaround.

Suppose it was an assignment in a weird geometry class, or in kindergarten, with the prompt “insert these shapes into the blank holes on the board.” You couldn’t be expected to hand in a puzzle with a triangle inside a square hole and receive a perfect score, but some of what you did in this hypothetical scenario is correct. You followed the mission, and you succeeded. It is true, but it is also false. The shapes adapt, but they don’t either.

With your logic, you have baffled your teacher to the point where you are sent back to the drawing board, told to try again in order to receive a passing grade. It will be a groundbreaking case when it inevitably comes to trial.

Daniel Theis says hello to a fan named Kevin.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

When you think of the phrase “all time” as it relates to the Boston Celtics, who do you see? Probably Bill Russell. Bob Cousy. John Havlicek. Larry Bird. Kevin McHale. Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnet. Jayson Tatum, slowly but surely, depending on how you view his legacy at 24 years old. I left out probably 10 to 20 names that might do the trick; my offering was only a sample of those who would claim to make the cut. And no, Antoine Walker will not be a first-round selection.

There’s a name you don’t see, never see, and should never see in this group that, in so many weird ways that I can’t even begin to understand my own mind as it tries to unravel it, may well belong to this. There may not be a weirder fit for the Celtic mold of all time, but somehow Daniel Theis worked his way into it. This triangular sonovagun saw a square space and dove headfirst into it. Twice. Because of course he did. Because no one else ever could.

Even when Daniel Theis wasn’t a Boston Celtic — you know, for what felt like 11 minutes — it seemed like he was destined to be a Boston Celtic again. A quick recap: The Celtics traded him to the Chicago Bulls in March 2021. He played in 23 games, starting 14 of them, and averaged a career-high 10 points per game. Just under five months later, Theis packed up and traveled to Houston in exchange for cash consideration, which traveled to Chicago. He wore a Rockets uniform 26 times, pouring sweat into it for 22.5 minutes a night, and because he took too many contacts off then-rookie Alperen Sengun and then-Rocket Christian Wood, he was thrown into business negotiations as soon as he arrived. . At the 2021-22 trade deadline, the Celtics jumped at the chance to jettison Dennis Schröder and Bruno Fernando, and Theis returned. He had been fighting the good fight of mate for less than a year. He ended up going home.

Theis didn’t exactly hate being in Houston, but he didn’t like it either. He loved Boston, the first franchise he ever adapted for the post-Bundesliga. (That’s where he spent the first seven seasons of his professional career, becoming a four-time All-Star and a three-time champion; people forget.)

“I wouldn’t say shocked. Kinda relieved and happy,” Theis said of learning the trade that would bring him back to Boston. “I think Houston just didn’t work out the way I planned. In my mind, if I was going to be traded. I wanted to come back here. I’m just happy to be back and leaving Houston behind. I look forward to the rest of the season.

About the rest of the season, as this is an exit interview about his 2021-22 campaign, not an autobiography: Theis played 21 regular season games to end the season and was a starter out of six. He scored 7.9 points and had 4.7 rebounds per game. He shot a career-best 59.8 percent from the field with 5.3 shots per game. He’s been called for a foul 2.3 times per game, which is far from a career high (3.4 in 2019-20) but adds to the fascinating lore of his NBA career as it stands.

(PS Regarding the aforementioned autobiography, I’ve agreed to terms with HarperCollins on a potential deal to write “The War on Theis”. It looks like publication won’t come until he retires, so it might take some time, but I’ll let you know the terms as soon as I learn to stop being so sarcastic.)

Theis also started the playoffs on a high. When Robert Williams injured his knee in early April and required surgery, the hope was that Williams could return at some point during the playoffs. Theis was thrust into a starting role as an immediately available safety net. He started all four games as the Celtics swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, recording a memorable 6-8-1-4 (blocks and fouls, last two digits) in the clincher.

He followed that series with respectable efforts against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston’s scariest opponent in their Eastern Conference playoff series, appearing in six of seven games in that series. Theis has only scored in double figures once in this series – 11 points in Game 4 – but if nothing else, was present and considered.

Perhaps the rap Theis was burdened with as the playoffs wore on turned sour due to the mediocrity (and invisibility) of his outings when they were needed most. Theis didn’t play a single minute in the last three games of the semifinals against the Miami Heat, and was ineffective in the NBA Finals, playing almost exclusively in the foul weather of the first two games of the series (the two blowouts, one in each team favor).

Celtics coach Ime Udoka needed help bouncing back but couldn’t rely on Theis as a physical presence capable of matching Kevon Looney, Draymond Green or Andrew Wiggins, and so cut his rotation to one. smaller, more attacking core of seven. players. It did not work; Boston was finished in six games by the greatest sniper of all time and his army of sluggers and snipers. Theis finished the playoffs as Boston’s only net-negative rotational player. Against the Warriors, he didn’t stand a chance.

All the while, however, he was a source of positivity. He wasn’t as loud as Grant Williams or as respected as Marcus Smart. But he was eager to contribute wherever he could, whether under the rim or under a warm-up shirt. At 30, Theis was the second-oldest player on last year’s list behind Al Horford (36 at the end of the season). He wore many hats, including the grizzled veteran who, despite never making the NBA Finals before, was (and still is!) technically the most decorated professional basketball player on the roster. “I have a lot of roles,” Theis told German outlet Deutsche Welle earlier this month, also calling the NBA Finals a “childhood dream” he still couldn’t believe. he was playing.

There’s so much – perhaps too much – to unpack about the multitude Theis contains as a player and teammate. Is he good? Is he worth signing up for the rest of his contract as he owes $27 million over the next three years?

But as a Celtic he is particularly unique. The war against Theis, as she has been affectionately dubbed by fans, is endless. Maybe that’s why he’s so beloved, and why he fits so well but awkwardly into the space of a fringe hardcore. He never did anything special as a Celtic except love being a Celtic.

When talking about his comeback during his introductory press conference, he specifically noted that he felt like he never left. “All the same guys I played with are still there, with the addition of Derrick and a few youngsters.” He was giddy, eager to be a part of it, and glowing with optimism about how he would fit in. Like a child who left a school district against his will, only to return a few months later because he was being bullied. at his new school. That is to say, old Tilman Fertitta.

The fact that he doesn’t fit into the Celtics’ plans in the final stretch of this season could be an indictment of his legacy. Or it could fuel his narrative, fitting right into the history his career has written just as he does in a Celtics uniform, despite his shortcomings as a player.

Part of me wonders if he’s destined to be Boston’s Udonis Haslem, that triangle that weaves its way through the fray just long enough that it’s not boring, but endearing.

Part of me wonders if that’s already what he is. It’s a great story anyway, isn’t it?