Can Danilo Gallinari realistically play for Celtics this season?

Danilo Gallinari

If you follow Danilo Gallinari on social media, you know the Boston Celtics forward has made impressive strides in his rehab since tearing his left ACL last August.

Gallinari has posted several videos of himself reaching various rehab milestones, from hoisting his first stationary shots to running on a court for the first time. On Monday, Gallinari posted what might be his most promising video yet: a 20-second video of the 34-year-old jogging at a decent clip while doing several mobility drills.

This latest encouraging update begs the question: Could Gallinari actually suit up for the Celtics at some point this season?

The recovery timeline for NBA players with ACL tears is typically nine to 12 months, and Gallinari took 10 months to recover from an ACL tear in his same knee in 2014. As a recent example, 35-year-old guard Joe Ingles tore his ACL on Jan. 30, 2022, and didn't play again until Dec. 19.

Gallinari suffered the injury on Aug. 27, 2022, and had surgery on Sept. 22, so if he follows that nine-to-12-month timeline, the best-case scenario would be a return in late May or early June, which would be just before (or during) the 2023 NBA Finals. Considering Gallinari hasn't played a game for the Celtics after coming over from the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason, it's worth wondering whether Boston would want to thrust him into a high-stakes playoff series to make his team debut.


Then again, Gallinari is training with the mentality that he can help the C's in the postseason.

"My mind-set is that I want to play, and that I’m going to play at the end of the season," Gallinari told The Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach last week. "I want to play in the playoffs. So that’s the mind-set that helps me every day get better and motivates me even more."

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We'd view these comments as more Gallinari trying to keep himself motivated during his rehab than a promise that we'll see him on the court in May. While he does seem to be making excellent progress, he still has a long way to go, and there's risk in rushing Gallinari back from his second ACL tear on the same knee.

There's a lot of time between late January and late April, though, and it sounds like the door isn't closed on Gallinari suiting up in 2023.

There is one more factor to consider: Gallinari is on a $6.5 million expiring contract that in theory could be used as a trade chip if Boston sees a need ahead of the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline. So, the Celtics will have to weigh whether they believe Gallinari can contribute to a deep playoff run, whether they want him back in 2023-24 on his $6.8 million player option, or whether it's worth trading the 6-foot-10 floor-spacer without him playing a single game in Boston.