On the latest episode of the HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto is joined by Danilo Gallinari, who is one of the top unrestricted free agents entering the market this offseason. Gallinari discussed his upcoming free agency, including what he’s looking for from a team and the possibility of re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He recalled memories of playing for the New York Knicks and what he thinks his former agent, Leon Rose, will do as Knicks President. The Italian forward talked about playing alongside Chris Paul, playing for Billy Donovan, Mike D’Antoni, and George Karl. The 32-year-old veteran also opened up about his injury-prone label, whether he’s underrated, his desire to play in the Olympics, and more. Listen to the podcast above or check out a transcribed version below.
Have you been doing anything different besides weights? Have you been doing yoga, pilates?
Danilo Gallinari: I do a lot more yoga and pilates. I do a lot of MMA, mixed martial arts. Those are the three things I do the most. Then, I work out here in Denver with Steve Hess, who used to be my trainer when I was with the Nuggets. Those four things together with the schedule is pretty busy. For fun, when I have time, I play some golf.
These past two years for you, you’ve been healthier than at any other point in your career and shooting over 40 percent from three back-to-back years. What have you done in your mind to overcome those early injuries when you were younger?
DG: First of all, I think all the workouts and knowing my body better. I wish I knew my body like that when I came into the league at 19. Knowing different people and different workouts. Now, I have my team. If I want to do a workout here, I go with Steve. I have my MMA trainer. I have my pilates courses and my yoga trainer. That’s a huge difference. I think team-wise, in the past few years, I think having everybody on the same page from the coaches to the trainers to the strength coach when everybody is on the same page, you can schedule the season and workouts way better. I think that was a big part of my successful seasons.
During your career to this point, some people have labeled you as injury-prone, but over the past two seasons, you’ve played more games than guys like Paul George, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard, to name a few. What do you say to people who consider you injury-prone at this point in your career?
DG: I don’t understand why they do that. Honestly, a huge problem was when I first came into the league as a rookie. I had back surgery, which was a big injury right away. When you come from Europe, and you have to show who you are right away, you get injured and get that stereotype on your shoulders. That was the beginning. But honestly, in my career, I’ve had small injuries that everyone has. I only had two big injuries, which was the back my first year and the ACL back in 2013 when I was in Denver. I honestly don’t understand why I have this injury-prone stigma on my shoulders, but it’s just not true. It’s not facts. The facts are different. I’m very healthy, and I’ve been playing seasons with no problems playing almost every game. Most of the games I didn’t play is because it was a team decision to rest and not being injured.
Do you feel that you’re underrated in a sense or appropriately rated? What do you think of your value around the league?
DG: Maybe, yes, a little bit underrated if I think about it. The thing is that it might be a perception from the fans, but people in basketball, coaches, analytics, and everybody know what the value is, what’s going on and what I can bring to the table every night for the past 12-13 years.
You and the Oklahoma City Thunder made the playoffs and gave the Houston Rockets a great series in the first round. What were your thoughts on OKC’s season this year, playing alongside Chris Paul, and what you guys were able to do?
DG: I think maybe the best definition is miracle seasons, last year and this year. Nobody expected us to do what we did. It’s not just that. They expected us to win maybe like 30 games, 33 games I remember when I was in LA (Clippers), and this year even worse (with OKC). That’s what I mean when I talk about being underrated. That’s when that talk comes to my mind because the seasons were amazing seasons. We did something that wasn’t expected by anybody. I think they were both miracle seasons because we did not just go to the playoffs, but I thought when I was in LA we won two games against Golden State when of course everyone thought it was going to be 4-0. We did a miracle come back, the best in NBA history from being down 31. Then, you go into this season where not just we made the playoffs, but we were fifth, we went to Game 7 with Houston, and I honestly thought we should have won that series. Amazing miracle seasons.
Do you think you can help a team that maybe isn’t considered a playoff team similar to what you did with OKC and the Clippers in exceeding expectations?
DG: For sure. I have enough confidence that whatever I do or wherever I go, that’s what’s going to happen. We did it in LA, and we did it in OKC two years in a row. The feeling and confidence that I have makes me think that for sure, it’s something I can do, and we can do with a team.
Were you surprised Billy Donovan and OKC parted ways?
DG: I don’t know, maybe a little surprised, but I understood both situations. I understand the NBA and the NBA business, so I talked to the team, I talked to Sam (Presti), I talked to Billy, and I think that was something that could’ve happened in the same way that it could’ve happened that he signed back with OKC. I’m very happy for Billy because it was a great season for him and the whole team. He did an amazing job. I had a great time with him. It was great to work with him.
Looking ahead to free agency, when they let go of Billy, does anything like that affect your decision of whether you could return to OKC in free agency? What do you think about the possibility of coming back to OKC next year?
DG: I would consider it for sure. I think as a player when you have such a great time with the team, and you go through what we’ve been through this season living this amazing miracle season, of course, I’d love to run it back and spend some more time in OKC. When you have this winning season, you always want to be on a winning team, and so, of course, I’d consider it. I think not just Billy, but also Sam, everything started with Sam. I thought Sam did a great job of building that team and also being on the same page as the players. He’s a guy that you can talk to him every day, and he was a guy that was very honest with me since the beginning of the season. I have a great relationship with him too.
When you get towards free agency, what are you looking for from whichever team you end up signing with? What’s on your checklist as a free agent?
DG: I think the best thing about free agency is that, especially in my situation, you have to look at everything. The part I love is that I have the chance to look at everything. Honestly, I don’t have one direction or one thing that I’m looking at. In your career, you can’t be a free agent every year. When it happens, for me, it’s this summer, I want to take my time and look at everything.
This is a chance for you in your early 30s to get a big contract, whether it’s long- or short-term. Are you looking to lock up something long-term coming off the past two healthiest seasons in your career?
DG: That’s definitely a thought. At the same time, because we don’t know and nobody knows the dates, how it’s going to look, and what’s going to happen next season, the long-term is an option, but everything is an option. Of course, the long-term is very good, but at the same time, because of the uncertainty we’re living in, I want to see everything that’s going on.
What was that experience like playing with Chris Paul?
DG: One of the best players that I ever played with. Definitely one of the best point guards, if not the best point guard that I ever played with. It was great to play with him, especially because the guy has a very high IQ. He knows how to play basketball. For a guy like me and the way that I play the game, he made my life way easier. He likes to talk and is always communicating. He’s very straight forward. We were on the same page the very first day we started working together during training camp. Also, being the only two guys over 30 on this very young team, we had to be on the same page.
What was it like for you and Chris trying to lead these young guys and your message throughout the season?
DG: I honestly loved it. I love working with the younger guys and being the guy they look up to and listen to you. You work with them every day, and you see them improving. What happened with Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), what happened with (Darius) Bazley, and all these young guys working every day, listening, and following the right path and advice, I think, is something that I’d love to keep doing, and I love to do.
What’s going through your mind being a free agent during COVID-19?
DG: It’s a mix of feelings. There is a feeling of excitement about free agency. At the same time, when I think about COVID and all the things I’ve been through with my country and the stuff I did for my country and Oklahoma, the quarantine and the numbers that are going up right now, it’s not easy. It’s a tough situation. I’m always optimistic and have positive thoughts, but at the same time, it’s not an easy situation. I don’t know when or how we’re going to get through it. Nobody knows. I just hope everybody stays safe and takes care of themselves, follow the instructions and rules.
With CAA, you work with Michael Tellem, and you also worked with Leon Rose, who went to the Knicks. When you think of Leon, what do you think of him as a basketball person?
DG: The first thing that I think about Leon is the relationship that we have. When I think about the Knicks, I can say they got the right guy. I’m very happy for him and the Knicks. It doesn’t matter if he’s an agent if he’s a GM, president, or whatever he’s going to be. We have a great relationship, and he did such a great job for me working with him. I wish him the best in everything he’s going to do. Knowing him, I think he’s going to make sure that he succeeds in every career that he’s going to do.
What do you remember about those Knicks teams at the start of your career?
DG: When you are an athlete, you always remember the winning seasons and the good times when you’re winning. My third season was very exciting. We had very good talent, a good team, and great guys. STAT (Amare Stoudemire) was a great guy. I loved playing with him. Raymond Felton was our point guard, and he was playing great. We had my guy Wilson Chandler. We had Timofey Mozgov. We had a very good team, and we were doing great. I’ve experienced the city is a little different when you win than when you lose. To experience New York and the Garden when you win, it’s different, and it’s pretty cool.
Do you ever wonder what could’ve been with that team before the trade to Denver for Carmelo Anthony?
DG: Yeah, sometimes I think about it with my family and my friends. We think about what happened that year or what could’ve happened that year. The only thing I think about is we could’ve had a lot of fun, not just for that season, but for many more years. I’ve got to say, I went from New York when we were winning, and I came to Denver and had some amazing times here in Denver with coach (George) Karl and the winning seasons that we had. When you win, every city is amazing, especially in New York.
What was it like playing for George Karl?
DG: I had a great relationship, and I still have a great relationship. I actually talked to him last week. He’s here in Denver. As a coach and a guy, I had a great time. He’s maybe the definition in the States, maybe you guys would say he’s an old school coach. I don’t know what that means, but I’ve heard that before. He’s a guy that tells you straight up what he thinks, and he makes you work and practice a lot, but the results were great when I was there together with him.
What are your goals for the rest of your career?
DG: A lot of things. I definitely want to keep playing the way I’ve been playing and be a key player for a franchise. I want to be able to help these young guys that are growing up and some amazing talents. The goal, of course, as a player is to win.
Have you thought about what you’d do after you hang up your sneakers?
DG: I honestly haven’t thought about it yet. With this new challenge that I have in my life with the baby coming, the main goal is to be a family guy and a great father. I grew up in an amazing family, and I want to reproduce the same thing my parents gave me and showed me. That’s the first goal I have in mind.
When you came to the USA, and Mike D’Antoni was your coach, what did you think of him as a coach in the league?
DG: A lot of great times. Mike was key for me because he was able to help me throughout the transition from Europe to the NBA, which isn’t an easy transition. Him playing in Europe all his career and coaching in Europe too, it was very easy for me to adapt too. I have to thank him for that. He’s a very good coach. He has his own style. He’s always going to bring that style wherever he goes. It’s a very exciting style. For a guy like me that plays a lot from the three-point line, if you’re a good three-point shooter to play for him is always great.
Do you think D’Antoni will be back as a head coach later this year or down the road?
DG: For sure. In my view of the NBA and the coaching situation, he has to have a team. The way that he coaches and the way that he approaches basketball, I think the NBA and basketball need him. He’s great to have as a coach. I think he’s going to find a place for sure.
Have you noticed any young Italian players in Italy or in the USA that can be the future of Italian basketball?
DG: I hope so. I think there are some Italian players that are playing in college right now that have good talent and some good Italian players that play for my former team in Milan. I think we have some good young players coming up. Being away from Italy for all these years, I don’t have or follow that much. I don’t have a lot of names. It’s good every summer to come back and play for the national team and see the new guys coming up. It’s a great test for me to see them and test them out every time I go back.
Have you thought of playing for the Italian National Team in 2021 and the Olympics down the road?
DG: For sure. I never played in the Olympics, so that’s a goal of mine with the national team. It’s something I’d like to achieve. I honestly think I have a lot of years left with them because I wanted to give my country and my fans what they deserve. I haven’t been able to do that yet, so that’s something that when I think about the summer, it’s something that’s in my mind every time, and I’m very focused on that because we need to achieve something with this group of guys that have been together for more than 10 years.
Have you talked about that with Marco Belinelli and the other Italians?
DG: That’s something we talk about all the time when we’re together for dinner or lunch, even in the group chat. We are separate here in the States, but when it’s summertime, and it’s time to get back together, it’s something we really like, and we want to do as much as we can.
Do you feel that you’re the face of Italian basketball, and is there a pressure that comes with that?
DG: There is pressure, but I like it. That’s something that I always wanted. To be the face or the model for the young Italian players is a goal that I had when I was a little kid. Now, I’m here, and I love it. Of course, it’s a lot of responsibility, but you don’t play basketball for 40 years. You only play basketball for a short amount of time. If you don’t want to deal with the responsibility, you need to change jobs.
Have you kept tabs on Nico Mannion, Arizona’s point guard?
DG: Yeah. I’ve been following him, especially last year. I haven’t met him yet. He played a couple of games for the Italian national team. He did very well. If he can help me and my team achieve something special, I can’t wait.
What was the experience like for you inside the bubble?
DG: I always say the NBA did an amazing job the way they were able to set up everything in such a short amount of time. It was amazing. They set up everything perfectly from the testing to the activities off the court we could do, the gyms to practice, the timing of the games.
We don’t know if there will be fans in the stands. Have you thought about what next season could look like?
DG: Of course, I’d like to get back to normal, but if I understand the situation and we need to play in another bubble, I will do it. Of course, we would love to get back to normal to play in front of regular fans.
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