Bulls' Daniel Theis prepares for Celtics, first crack at old team

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Rob Schaefer
·3 min read
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Theis prepares for 'special' reunion with old team, Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Monday evening, Daniel Theis will line up opposite the Boston Celtics, who signed him to his first NBA contract in 2017, for the first time in his professional career.

"Definitely a weird feeling, being the guest team here coming to the (TD) Garden, but definitely a special day too," Theis said following the Bulls' morning shootaround. "I've played many games here, spent almost four years here, so I'm just going to enjoy it tonight."

Theis grew into a staple of the Celtics' frontcourt rotation over his 247 appearances with the team, starting all 17 of their 2020 postseason games and 37 of 42 contests in 2020-21 before being dealt to the Bulls at the trade deadline in a cost-cutting move.

Though he said being traded "definitely caught me off guard," Theis added he still keeps in contact with his ex-teammates, especially fourth-year forward Semi Ojeleye, who he said he speaks to "basically" every day.

"It's going to be special to see all those guys," Theis said of his former teammates and coaches.

Theis has also made quite the impression on his new colleagues, averaging 9.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and uncountable reckless-abandon defensive plays per night in his first 11 games as a Bull. For the last two games, in fact, Theis has slid into the team's starting lineup, bringing a tough-minded defensive presence alongside Nikola Vučević in the frontcourt, and moving Thad Young's playmaking to a bench unit that had lost a bit of its luster.

To hear Theis tell it, the move was well-received in the Bulls' locker room, which remains focused on winning games by any means necessary.

"We all just want to win. So we actually don't care who's starting, who's not starting, we're just trying to figure out lineups and what works," he said.

The Bulls snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday against the Cavaliers, holding Cleveland to 96 points in a 10-point victory. Theis, who hit two 3-pointers in the closing quarter of the contest, said he thought the team's communication and physicality on the defensive end marked steps forward for a unit that is ranked 25th in defensive rating since the trade deadline.

Before that game, head coach Billy Donovan was asked if he and the Bulls' front-office decision-makers had discussed the possibility of re-upping Theis this offseason, when the 29-year-old big man be an unrestricted free agent. Donovan was effusive in his praise for Theis and open-mindedness toward keeping him around.

Presented with that information, Theis' focus stayed centered on -- you guessed it -- helping the team. That principle has permeated his press dealings since prioritizing a playoff push in his first post-trade comments to reporters.

"Obviously it’s nice to hear that Coach (Donovan) is talking well about me," Theis said. "Like I said, I’m just trying to be a veteran guy on this team, help the young guys. And listen, I’ve been around basketball for a long, long time, and I think I bring a physicality to the team, especially on the defensive end, and I want to bring it every night.’’

His new teammates will hope he brings an extra dose of that in his old digs Monday.

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