This is revenge, the chance for Max Strus to settle the score, to prove the Boston Celtics wrong, to make Brad Stevens wish he had never issued that pink receipt.
“No,” Strus told the Sun Sentinel during a private moment outside the Miami Heat locker room at FTX Arena. “This is not about me. This is bigger than me. It’s the Eastern Conference finals. There are no personal vendettas here. We’re just trying to win a series.”
The difference is that one team waived Strus early in his NBA career, while the other saw so much potential that they signed Strus a year after a devastating knee injury in 2019.
“I had no idea Max was playing for the Celtics,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “I did not do it”.
That’s because technically Strus didn’t.
Signed by Boston during the 2019 offseason after going undrafted by DePaul, Strus thrived with the Celtics in summer league and then made the final preseason cut. But on the eve of the regular season, Strus was released in favor of Javonte Green, another undrafted prospect.
“I think they went with the more defensive player,” Strus said, with Green spending a season and a half with the Celtics, and now a season and a half with the Chicago Bulls. “But they said it was a difficult decision for them to make. And everything happens for a reason.”
Formal notice of his release from the Celtics came from former Celtics executive Danny Ainge. There was also a parting moment with Stevens, who was then a Celtics coach and now oversees Boston’s front office.
“Danny said it was a tough decision to make,” Strus said. “And I also met with Brad, and he said the same thing. Then it happens. It’s part of the business.”
Meanwhile, a Plan B had been set in motion, with Strus immediately signing a two-way contract with his hometown Bulls.
“It’s what happens,” Strus said. “It’s part of the business. It was my rookie season. They obviously didn’t think I was the piece they needed, so they waived me and I signed a two-way deal with Chicago.
“It was the last minute. We knew it was up to me or [Green], quite a lot. So my agent was already working in other areas. So I knew that if it happened, I would go home. So it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.”
Then the knee. Then a two-way deal with the Heat. And now a standard deal and a starting role in the Eastern finals, including three 3-point daggers in Game 1 in this best-of-seven series that moved into Game 2 on Thursday night.
All the while playing without encouragement toward Stevens or his former Celtics preseason teammates.
“I know them all,” he said. “They’re all good guys.”
And if there is a chip, it transcends those roster machinations at the end of the 2019 Celtics training camp.
“Of course, always,” Strus said. “I have multiple chips on my shoulder, not only that. I have a lot of things that I could turn to to motivate and energize me, so it’s not just that.”
Truth be told, it wasn’t until the eve of training camp in 2020 that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra became aware of Strus, after an argument with Adam Simon, the team’s assistant general manager.
“I remember the first time Adam mentioned his name,” Spoelstra said. “I saw a lot of movies. That’s the first time I’ve seen him play. It was literally a week before we hired him here.”
So yes, Strus was willing to bleed green.
Even if it’s a largely overlooked chapter.
“I didn’t know who Max was until he got here,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “The first day he got here, he didn’t miss a shot. So I knew he wasn’t going anywhere.”