R.J. Hunter says he never expected to be back in Boston.
“I really had to move on from that situation,” he told reporters in a conference call Friday. “I had to say, ‘Well, that’s over now, so it’s time to move on with your career,’ especially with how this business is. It’s so shot clock.”
But Hunter, who was released by the Celtics after his rookie season, has serendipitously returned to the organization that drafted him 28th overall in 2015. The 6-foot-5, 25-year-old shooting guard signed a two-way contract with the C’s earlier this week.
“For [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] and everybody to keep up with me — three years later — on my journey, when it’s kind of hard to keep up with games, it just really said a lot about how far I’ve improved,” Hunter said. “It was just awesome to hear from him.”
After parting ways with the Celtics — which coach Brad Stevens called “one of the toughest things [he’s] been a part of over the last six years” — Hunter has bounced around the G-League. Most recently, he averaged 22 points on 42.6 percent shooting in 22 games with the Erie BayHawks this season. During his time away from the NBA, Hunter says he developed more well-rounded skills as well as a greater “appreciation of the game.”
“It allowed me to really focus on basketball and my craft and how to improve,” he said. “I really fell back in love with the game.”
Stevens said Hunter will start with the Maine Red Claws in Portland, joining fellow two-way player P.J. Dozier. Hunter said he’s not viewing his journey to be any sort of redemption story, but he expressed excitement at the opportunity to return. As a two-way player, Hunter can spend up to 45 days with the Celtics during the regular season.
Hunter said he has “always kept up with the C’s” from afar, and — though only Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier remain from his rookie season — he’s fully aware of the group’s potential.
“There’s an actual chance of winning a championship,” Hunter said. “I think that excitement alone has been a crazy feeling to be back for me.”