Celtics Circuit: Is Brad Stevens the Right Man for the Job?
There were thirteen coaching changes in the NBA this off-season and the biggest surprise was when the Boston Celtics hired Brad Stevens.
After Doc Rivers was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2014 unprotected first-round pick, the speculation increased that the Celtics would bring in a young coach because they were looking to rebuild with a youthful core of players. This became true after the Celtics traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to their Atlantic Division rival, the Brooklyn Nets. Many members of the media who cover the team thought that Danny Ainge would pick Jay Larranaga. Larranaga spent last season as an assistant coach with the Celtics and he was named as the lead man of the Celtics’ Summer League entry in Orlando. He also reached the playoffs in both seasons as the coach with Erie of the D-League and he was the son of the University of Miami (FL) head coach Jim Larranaga.
Ainge made a bold move instead as he secretly recruited Stevens to leave a comforting situation at Butler University to join the uncertain environment with the Celtics. Stevens was treated like a king at Butler as he helped bring the mid-major Bulldogs to consecutive national championships in 2010 and 2011. Butler lost to Duke in 2010 when current Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward nearly hit a half-court buzzer-beater and UConn in 2011. The recent failure of college coaches transitioning to the professionals ranks have people questioning Ainge’s move. College coaches have to adjust to the 24-second shot clock and players are making millions of dollars. Stevens is also 36-years-old and he looks more like an accountant than a coach.
The Celtics have a mercurial star on their roster in Rajon Rondo. Rondo reportedly had several clashes with Rivers and his coach at the University of Kentucky, Tubby Smith. Rondo has the talent to be one of the best players in the league, but there have been too many occasions throughout the past seven seasons in which Rondo has let his temper get the best of him. There were many whispers that the Celtics could trade Rondo before the season. Rondo has two years left on his contract, but he is coming off a torn ACL. The question was how will the headstrong point guard get along with the new coach who never played in the league? On media day, Rondo said all of the right things as far as his relationship with his head coach, but the real test will come during the season when the team is struggling in the midst of a long road trip.
With Rondo out until at least December, the Celtics lack a true point guard and a center. Stevens has mentioned Avery Bradley as replacing Rondo. Bradley struggled last season when he was forced to run the offense due to Rondo’s season-ending injury. Bradley’s tenacious defense can be contagious, but he struggled towards the end of last season, especially in the first-round playoff loss to the New York Knicks. Raymond Felton was able to have success on both ends of the court with his ability to get in the lane and Bradley failing to make shots. It wasn’t until in the fourth quarter of Game 6 when the Celtics nearly rallied from a 26-point deficit when Bradley made his biggest impact of the series. Yet the Celtics still lost as the Knicks moved onto the Eastern Conference semifinals. At center, the Celtics’ only legitimate center is Brazilian Vitor Faverani. Faverani did perform well in last night’s exhibition contest against the Knicks with 11 points and six rebounds. Faverani is inexperienced and will have to learn how to defend the pick-and-roll in the NBA.
Stevens will be successful because the NBA is turning into the MLB as far as front offices becoming obsessed with statistics and numbers. This hire could turn out to be like Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” philosophy with the Oakland A’s. While Stevens doesn’t look the part, he has a demeanor that allows him to be successful with professional players unlike Rick Pitino with the Celtics or John Calipari with the then-New Jersey Nets. The Celtics compiled four unprotected first-round selections through 2018 with their trades this off-season. They also hold their own picks. With the trade of Fab Melo to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Celtics were able to get under the luxury tax for this season. They could have money to spend next year or in 2015 on impending free agents. All of these accumulated assets could lead to a major move in the future or the Celtics could find multiple stars through the draft.
If Stevens can prove that he is successful with less talent, then there could be more players who will want to play for him. He has already shown that ability at Butler, now he will have to prove himself in Boston.