After I recovered from the initial shock of this hire from the Boston Celtics and was able to step back and let this marinate for a little while, I can see what GM/president Danny Ainge is doing as a long-term goal for this historic franchise and it just might work.
First I want to give Ainge credit for pulling this move without the general public (and some high-profile sports writers) even knowing he had interest in one of the brightest mind in college hoops and the most sought after every time a job opens up (whether it was UCLA, Illinois or Minnesota). A source with direct knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that the Celtics targeted the 36-year old Stevens as soon as the Rivers deal with the Clippers was finalized. The Celtics contacted Stevens a week ago. The two sides had phone conversations, and the Celtics were waiting for Stevens to say yes. Ainge and the Celtics’ ownership group flew to Indianapolis on Wednesday morning for their one and only in-person meeting with Stevens, and he accepted the job there.
“Brad and I share a lot of the same values,” Ainge said in a news release. “Though he is young, I see Brad as a great leader who leads with impeccable character and a strong work ethic. His teams always play hard and execute on both ends of the court. Brad is a coach who has already enjoyed lots of success, and I look forward to working with him towards banner 18.”
Stevens had spent the past six years coaching Butler, leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championship games in 2010 and ’11. He has a career winning percentage of .772 and never won fewer than 22 games in a season; he was the youngest coach to reach the Final Four since Bob Knight in 1973.
History tells us about college legends who flopped in the pros with the likes of Rick Pitino and John Calipari in basketball – Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier in football; there’s a difference between coaching young and impressionable kids who need the scholarship they received from a coach and young multi-millionaires with large egos who at times orchestrate the hirings and firings of a head coach, but I believe Stevens is the type of coach who can communicate to players to either buy into his system or at least compromise with him.
Ainge recently said he was not planning for any more big trades, as the team is content with its stripped-down roster, but if there is a Stevens vs. Rondo situation, it will be a short fight. Stevens will be running the team and if Rondo has a problem with it, Ainge will gladly find a new place for him. Rondo (when healthy) is in the top 5 of PGs in the NBA, but that doesn’t matter right now to a team that’s clearly not in contention for the playoffs for the next couple of seasons; let’s not forget, Ainge just dumped three veteran All-Stars and/or HOFers in Pierce, Garnett and Terry and one of the best coaches in the league now in Rivers, so who the hell is Rondo to Ainge.
College basketball analyst Jay Bilas thinks Stevens can be successful at the NBA level.
“I’ve always found the idea that a college coach can’t make the transition to the NBA is ludicrous,” Bilas told USA TODAY Sports. “The miserable failures we’ve seen have come because coaches take bad jobs.”
Bilas says the toughest part for Stevens is the rebuilding process the Celtics are in.
“The primary challenge will be dealing with the criticism of not winning,” Bilas said. “The Celtics are going to have to get bad to get good. He’s going to have to deal with the questions that come with losing. … The guy can coach, and he can coach on any level. It has nothing to coach major, midmajor, college pro, D-League. That has very little to do with it. There will be a different schedule and rhythm to it, but Brad is really smart and will figure it out.”