You might be forgiven if you thought Danilo Gallinari’s career was finished.
Maybe you thought the injuries were too much — those to his back, knees, tendons and muscles. Maybe you thought his first season with the Clippers, in which he played just 21 games, defined him as an inefficient shooter who will spend more time in the training room than on the court.
You weren’t alone in thinking that.
Just don’t expect that forgiveness to come from Gallinari.
“If they forget about me,” Gallinari said, “they either are stupid or they have memory problems.”
Consider yourself reminded.
The Clippers will return to the playoffs this season after a one-year absence with Gallinari as one of the primary reasons. Friday was his 67th game of the season, the most he’s played since 2012-13 and the third-highest total of his career.
He’s never scored more (19.8 points per game), shot better (46.3% from the field) or grabbed more rebounds (6.2) in his 11-year career.
Gallinari discussed his career path with The Times during a recent visit to the Eataly L.A. market in Century City. It’s clear he wants to stay in Los Angeles — he has a year left on his contract — but if the Clippers are able to land multiple max-level free agents this summer, Gallinari knows he could be on the move.
“I feel great about this franchise, about this team,” he said during a rooftop chat at Terra restaurant. “I don’t know what’s in their plans. I’m just a spectator. I have another year on my contract next year. If I can be a part of this team for a long time, that’s my goal. That’s my dream.”
It doesn’t seem like Gallinari’s future ever has been much of a concern. His father, Vittorio, became a professional in Italy on the same day Gallinari started playing the game because of a combination of natural talent and size. He signed with a team before his 13th birthday. By 17, he was playing for a team owned by Giorgio Armani. By 19, the New York Knicks had taken him with the No. 6 pick in the 2008 NBA draft.
“My opinion of him hasn’t changed since the first day I saw him and we drafted him in New York,” said Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Knicks at the time and had been a teammate of Gallinari’s father in Milan.
“He’s a great player. And if he stays healthy, everyone will see it more.”
The NBA didn’t get to see it right away because a back injury sustained in training before the draft cost Gallinari most of his rookie season.
The injury was so painful, Gallinari couldn’t sleep more than two hours a night. Sitting was so uncomfortable, his mother would put a pair of towels on the floor so her 6-foot-10 son could kneel and eat the breakfast she had made.
“It was maybe — no, for sure — the worst seven or eight months of my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish that not even to my worst enemy.”
Gallinari bounced back and showed enough in his second season that he was sent to Denver as the centerpiece of a trade for Carmelo Anthony. Gallinari played five-plus seasons in Denver — and missed an entire one with a torn anterior cruciate ligament — averaging 16.2 points and reaching the playoffs twice. But he shot just 38% in the postseason and never got past the first round.
Then, a glute injury spoiled his fresh start in L.A.
“It was just another challenge,” he said.
This season, coaches and scouts around the NBA have seen Gallinari realize much of his potential on both ends of the court.
“They never talked about my defense,” Gallinari said. “But every coach I’ve played for, I make them say ‘Oh, I didn’t know about your defense. We’re going to put you on the best players. And the other team thinks that you’re not good, so they’re going to attack you. But we love that.’”
Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said he was one of those guys who saw Gallinari in what he thought was a mismatch earlier this season.
“He has elite talent. What guys, at 6-foot-10, can handle the ball, shoot the ball, score the ball the way he does? And I think he’s an underrated defender. It must’ve been 10 times we got him in isolations and we couldn’t go by him,” Atkinson said. “Gallo is really good at using his length and intelligence and has more foot speed than you think. He’s just really good.”
When the playoffs begin next week, he’ll play his first postseason minutes since 2012. With each basket he makes, Staples Center’s in-house DJ will play the chorus from a tribute song some of Gallinari’s Swedish friends wrote for him.
“Danilooo Gallinariiii” will blare over the speakers, and on a big stage, everyone will know he’s back.