Olynyk talks excelling with Rockets, trade to Raptors that fell through, free agency, Olympics

Houston Rockets' forward Kelly Olynyk spoke to KTW on Sunday, addressing a broad range of topics on a Zoom call before catching a flight to Portland from Utah.

Here is Part 1 of the question-and-answer session. Part 2 will be published later this week.

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KTW: What were your initial thoughts when you found out about the trade? You went from a playoff contender to a team at the bottom of the league standings.
KO: Every time the trade deadline comes, you’re like, ‘Oh, I could be traded.’ Especially with me. My name has been tossed around every once in a while for the last eight years. This year, I had a gut feeling I was going to be traded and I don’t know why. It was weird. We had a shootaround in the morning and Miami had a game that night. Usually I eat lunch and take a nap. I didn’t take a nap. I had a feeling something was going to happen. I was getting text messages from my agent that were like, ‘You’re probably going to Toronto. Miami is the frontrunner for Kyle Lowry and if something happens, you’ll probably be in the deal to Toronto.’ That was at about one o’clock. The trade deadline was three o’clock. Two-thirty comes around and I haven’t heard anything. I get a phone call saying there is still a high possibility you’re going to Toronto. They’re just tying to figure out terms.

Three o’clock comes and passes. Nothing happens. No phone call, nothing on Twitter and no text messages. I see something that says, ‘Kyle Lowry is not being moved.’ Now it’s 3:05. As long as the phone call starts before three, you can finish negotiations. I know it’s not over, but nobody is saying negations are in the works. Then, all of a sudden, it’s 3:15 and I get a text message from a good friend from Miami that says, ‘Damn, that sucks, but good luck.’ I was like, ‘What is he talking about?’

Then, all of a sudden, the texts start flooding in and I found out I was going to Houston.

It’s a weird feeling being traded. We were in the finals last year, so going from a playoff contender to a team that’s trying to figure some things out, that’s close to the bottom. You want to be wanted.

KTW: This trade has turned out to be a great thing for your career individually. You’re seeing the floor more than ever and recording a bunch of career-highs. Why has it worked so well in Houston?
KO: The trade was a blessing in disguise. It opened a lot of doors. In Miami, we had a great team and I had a specific role. Here, it’s a lot more open. There is a lot of freedom to play how I’ve always played basketball. It’s been up and down in terms of players in and out of the lineup. I’ve had a lot more responsibility on my shoulders to do a little bit of everything — play a lot of different positions, inside, outside, handle the ball, make plays for others, score and rebound. I’ve been able to play basketball like I always have. It’s been super fun and super refreshing. We haven’t won as much as we would like to, but we’ve been in a lot of games. Right when I got traded, Houston called me and they said, ‘We want you here. We love you as a basketball player. We love your experience, coming from a great program and culture, so you can come here and help these young guys along their way.’

That’s kind of what my role has been, helping these young guys know what it takes to be a professional on and off the court, be a leader and go out there and play basketball. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity and we’ll see what happens this summer.

KTW: Does it make you feel like you were under-utilized in the past? Is there a part of you that looks back on your career and says, ‘Look what I could have done if I was given some more opportunity?’
KO: Yeah, 100 per cent. As a player, you always think, ‘I can do more.’ A lot of times, you don’t get the opportunity. It’s fun to get that opportunity and show that you can. It’s also a testament to step into a team and play a role. A lot of guys can’t do that, whether it’s on the bench or a shooter. One thing I’ve been able to do is adapt to different teams, play a role and be a piece on the team to help them win. That’s something that gets lost sometimes. Sometimes, guys are super talented, but they can’t play a role, they get lost in the shuffle and they’re out of the league. But also, coming into prove that, hey, don’t forget, I can do all of this, as well. That’s what’s special for me and, hopefully, it’s been fun to watch.

KTW: Your fiancée is an accountant.You may need to get some financial advice from her pretty quick here. You’ve already made about $60 million. Now, you’re having a career year in a contract year. What’s the most important thing for you about this next contract?
KO: Money definitely plays a role. If anybody is given the option for more money or less money, no matter what the job is … it’s hard to turn that down. But it’s not the end all be all. You can go to a contender and help them win a title or go to a B-level team and help them build something or you can go to a younger team and help them build a culture and create momentum from the bottom up. A lot of it is the money, but also the opportunity. Are you going to get to play basketball the way you want to, utilize your skills in the best way and enjoy yourself day in and day out? There are a lot of people in this league who are maybe not in the role they love and it’s not enjoyable to go to work every day.

You also want to be in a place that your fiancée enjoys, as well.

KTW: Are you intending to play in the upcoming Olympic qualifier tournament and try to help Canada get to the Tokyo Games?
KO: My hope and goal is always to play in the Olympics. Ever since I was young and watching Steve Nash and Canada play at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, that’s been my goal. Obviously, it’s a tough situation right now, with a contract year. Usually, free agency is July 1, so you’d be through free agency and onto the Olympics at the end of July and into August. But this year, because it’s been pushed back, free agency is Aug. 1, so it’s a tough decision because if you get hurt, good luck getting signed, basically. You’re going to have to wait a year and do a short deal to prove you’re healthy.

I’m still trying to work through it and maybe check into insurance and all that kind of stuff and see what we can do to protect ourselves. My goal is, hopefully, that I can play, but we’ll see how it shakes out.

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