Daniel Theis is going into the playoffs with one of the hottest teams in the NBA. SPOX spoke to the 30-year-old about his turbulent season, the reasons for the Boston Celtics’ upswing and his team’s ambitions.
Theis also reveals why he didn’t feel comfortable with the Houston Rockets, what it was like to be traded for his buddy Dennis Schröder and compares Ime Udoka to coaches in Europe.
Mr. Theis, first of all, congratulations on second place! Just a few months ago, Boston was considered a disappointment, but no team in the east has been better over the past few months. Why is it that it works so well now?
Daniel Theis: Thanks. The team was already very good when I traded here, the run had already started. Automatisms were found and developed and everyone understood that one should not fall back into old habits. It just clicked after the mixed start to the season. When you start playing so successfully and win a series of games, you don’t want to stop.
It was certainly not foreseeable for you that you would suddenly be at the top. Her season started in Houston, where from the start it wasn’t about winning. Do you appreciate this situation in Boston all the more now?
Theis: In any case. I’ve always felt comfortable here in Boston, but you get a different perspective when you’ve been in a situation where that’s not the case. I knew when I signed in Houston that it was about a rebuild, but it wasn’t nice how things were going there.
What bothered you about the Rockets?
Theis: At the beginning of the season we lost 16 games in a row. I was made a scapegoat for that. I lost my spot as a starter and only got used occasionally like I was the main culprit. I tried to stay professional and help the younger players, that should be part of my role anyway, but I hadn’t imagined it that way. It wasn’t by accident that I signed for four years.
Did that make it clear early on that you wouldn’t even finish this season in Houston?
Theis: I have never requested a trade. But quite early on there was the thought that it wasn’t right that both sides actually had different ideas. We talked to the front office about my agent, and I also indicated that I would like to go back to Boston if the worst came to the worst. But I knew that a lot had to come together. It actually took up to 15 minutes before the deadline, then all of a sudden it fit. Otherwise I would have remained professional in Houston. You never want to be traded unless something violent has happened. It affects the whole family, the children.
Daniel Theis: “I offered Schröder my house”
How should one imagine the day of the trade? Are you informed by your agent or are you also constantly updating Twitter like the fans and journalists?
Theis: It’s a mix. You hear something beforehand. I knew that day that there was a possibility with Boston, but that something else had to happen first and it wasn’t guaranteed at all. So I was curious myself, although I use Twitter less here, there is SportsCenter on TV, where you can see all the transactions. The day itself was actually a match day, I went about my normal routine to prepare. And then it just happened.
The trade was a bit special because you were swapped for your friend Dennis Schröder, among other things. Have you spoken to him about it? He had probably imagined the season differently.
Theis: We spoke briefly at the time, but not really in detail. You have to organize a lot very quickly, life changes completely in one fell swoop, so there wasn’t much time.
When Josh Hart and Larry Nance were traded for each other, also good friends, they swapped houses without further ado.
Theis: I actually offered him my house in Houston. (laughs) But it wasn’t the right situation for that, he’s a free agent in the summer. Maybe we’ll talk about it again when he signs a new deal.
How did the move go for you?
Theis: I have lived in the hotel ever since. My family has only just followed and we were lucky enough to find a house. I’m just unpacking, this is my non-training day. (laughs) It’s good that they’re finally here. It also helps that we know the city and a lot of the people here, so it doesn’t take long to get used to it again.
Celtics-Big Daniel Theis: “These are strokes”
That probably also applies to the team, right? Only the head coach is actually new.
Theis: I really wasn’t gone that long. I’ve played with everyone here before except Derrick White, who joined the team at the same time as me. That helps massively, even if we don’t play exactly like before. Some automatisms are still there, first and foremost I just had to get to know the coach and he me.
What is your impression of Ime Udoka?
Theis: He definitely knows what he’s doing, he has his ideas offensively and defensively and they all make sense. What’s also very important, he holds everyone accountable and addresses mistakes, whether it’s me making them, Grant Williams, or Jayson Tatum. Everyone is treated exactly the same. This is not as obvious as it sounds.
Is he very different from Brad Stevens?
Theis: Stevens also has very high standards. But Coach Udoka is more direct in his communication. You’ll hear him say, “What the hell are you doing?” or “That shit doesn’t work like that”. Stevens was nicer, at least he expressed his criticism nicer. But I think that’s a good thing. I mean I’m from Europe. (laughs) When people think something is very direct here, I often still think that it’s just a lot of tender loving care. You get completely different announcements from European coaches.
You have already mentioned that Udoka has also changed a few things tactically. What exactly? Did it take you a while to get your bearings?
Theis: First, there is the role of Rob [Robert Williams, d. Red.]. He was pulled away from the opposing Big Man during the season and parked by the opponent’s worst pitcher so he could constantly help out as a shot blocker. It made sense because Rob has incredible athleticism, he can jump out of the gym. This gives us more protection than any other team, which is one of the reasons why we’ve had by far the best defense in the league over the past few months. Offensive… well, basketball is basketball. You have to learn a few systems, but basically it’s about playing together, moving the ball a lot and basic principles like that.