Officially, league rules stipulate that a player must be a member of the roster at season’s end to be eligible for a ring. Ultimately, though, the decision essentially rests with the team.
An NBA spokesperson said that when teams request permission to give rings to former players, they are typically granted. But those requests tend to be rare. The only hard-and-fast rule is that the player has to have been a member of the team at some point during the season.
When COVID-19 was pummeling NBA rosters in late December, the league established a hardship exception that allowed teams to sign extra players to 10-day contracts without affecting the 15-player roster limit. Then in February, the Celtics made three trades in which they sent out seven players and received Derrick White and Daniel Theis in return, eventually filling most of those empty spots with G League callups.
Seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, 40, signed a 10-day deal in December and hit his only shot during his only appearance, a two-minute stint against the Cavaliers. Bol Bol and P.J. Dozier were injured when they were acquired in January, and remained injured when they were traded away a month later, without ever suiting up for Boston.
There were other veterans on 10-day contracts you’ve probably forgotten by now: Al-Farouq Aminu, Justin Jackson, Norvel Pelle. And there were rotation players who were traded away as part of president of basketball operations Brad Stevens’s midseason rebuild: Romeo Langford, Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Enes Freedom, Bruno Fernando, and Juancho Hernangomez.
In all, there are 15 players who were Celtics at one point this season but can no longer make that claim. And whether or not they cash in with championship rings could ultimately be up to team ownership.
In 2015-16, Cavaliers veteran center Anderson Varejao was traded to the Trail Blazers before eventually being released and signing with the Warriors. Cleveland beat Golden State in the NBA Finals, and the Cavaliers voted to offer a ring to Varejao, who had spent his first 11½ seasons with Cleveland. But he declined.
A year later, Varejao was waived after playing 14 games with Golden State, and the Warriors went on to win the title. The Warriors offered him a ring, and this time he accepted.
But the Warriors had a total of just 17 players on their roster that year. The Celtics had 32, several of whom never appeared in a game. The candidates among this group would be much less clear-cut.
Johnson, who has played in 1,397 career regular-season and playoff games but never won a title, would be the storybook choice. But he played just two minutes for the Celtics. And of the players who departed, none had a rich history with the franchise that came to an abrupt end. Langford, who played 105 games over 2½ seasons, was the most tenured.
But there is some good news for others who never expected to be in this situation. Players such as Malik Fitts, Luke Kornet, Nik Stauskas, and Juwan Morgan, who were signed to NBA deals following the February trades, would all receive championship rings.
Fitts, for one, was waived by the Jazz in January before signing two 10-days deal with Boston. He eventually parlayed those into an NBA contract and has become the team’s leader in bench celebrations.
“To get waived from a team and picked up by a team that was definitely on a hot streak, that’s really a blessing,” he said. “And to be in a situation where I’m at right now and potentially win it all and get a ring? That’d be one hell of a story.”
Two-way contract players Matt Ryan and Brodric Thomas would be in position to get rings, too.
Beyond the roster, ownership can hand out rings to whomever it pleases without needing to ask the NBA for permission. So former president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who constructed most of this team and drafted players such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Robert Williams before departing last summer after 18 years at the helm, could be rewarded.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.