BOSTON – When the NBA decided to institute two-way contracts as a roster option for teams, no one knew how it would turn out.
There have been some failures, for sure.
But there have been a decent number of success stories, with the latest being Boston’s Jabari Bird who signed a two-year deal with the Celtics on Thursday.
The 6-foot-6 wing was drafted by the Celtics with the 56th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft and was soon signed to a two-way contract which meant he could spend as many as 45 days with the Celtics while the rest of his professional basketball career was with the Celtics’ Gatorade affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
For a late second-round pick like Bird, it was the best of both worlds: a chance to play in professional basketball and within that, potentially get some time in the NBA.
The path that Bird has taken, from being a two-way player to one who is now a member of the team’s 15-man roster, is exactly why the two-way system was implemented.
The time Bird spent with the Red Claws, being put in a system that mirrored what the Celtics were doing, made for a seamless transition when his opportunity to play with Boston manifested itself.
While many marvel at how well he played with Boston’s summer league team earlier this month and how he made the most of playing time at the end of the season, die-hard Celtics fans go back to the team’s first win of the season – at Philadelphia – when it was Bird’s play that played a major factor in Boston netting its first win of the season.
Called upon because of Gordon Hayward’s injury, Bird stepped in to do what so few had felt he was capable of – defending at a high level.
His task that night was clear: stay as close as possible to J.J. Redick.
Where he goes, you should already be there.
And to Bird’s credit, he did as good a job as any other Celtic which drew praise from both players and the coaching staff.
For months, that was about as good as life in the NBA got for Bird which as he would later tell NBC Sports Boston, is the life you live when you are in the league on a two-way contract.
“Like anybody else, you want to play in the NBA,” Bird told NBC Sports Boston. “But you have to be patient, and be ready when you’re time comes. You don’t know when it comes, but Brad (Stevens, Boston’s head coach) always tells us, ‘stay ready, stay ready.’ I did that all season and for the most part, things worked out when I got a chance to play.”
For Bird, a prep All-American in high school, signing with the Celtics has fulfilled a dream that not that long ago seemed as though it was a given when you consider his size, athleticism, and the direction and pace of the NBA game today.
But injuries at Cal left many seeing his game as promise unfulfilled, only to have injuries once again impact his availability for the Celtics and Red Claws earlier this season.
However, we saw in summer league just what a healthy Jabari Bird could do.
His play in the summer was a direct reflection of the time he put in during the offseason to strengthen his body and his overall game, often driving an hour to for a 6 a.m. workout.
“He has always wanted to be in the gym,” Bird’s trainer Packie Turner told NBC Sports Boston. “But you could tell, he could see how close he was and came in committed to doing everything he could to make it happen, now.”