If Greg Popovich is liking what you're doing, I'd say Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are on the right track. Even after the his Spurs added another loss the Celtics' now five game losing streak, Pop was very complimentary with Ainge's vision to hire one of the best coaches in basketball in Stevens and preached patience to Celtics fans looking for a shortcut back to glory:
The Spurs' coach praised Stevens heavily before tonight's game and was asked what advice he would give the NBA neophyte.
"He doesn't need advice from me," Popovich said. "He's already a good coach in his own stead. But in this league with the number of games and as talented as teams are, when you just come into the league, patience is probably a big commodity -- especially in someone's situation who's used to winning night after night. It's a little different when you're rebuilding a program.
"Patience on everybody's part is really important, and Danny (Ainge) has it and he understands the situation. All it will do is improve as time goes on. Guaranteed."
Ainge seemed to echo those sentiments this morning during his radio with Toucher & Rich on 98.5. After blasting the Bleacher Report's rumor that the Celtics were looking to deal Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries (and earlier, Courtney Lee) for Amar'e Stoudemire (and Iman Shumpert), Ainge went on to say that despite the team's record, he's seen good things in this roster:
There's more guys taking shots now. Sully's starting to step it up and you see the development in his game. And Avery's taking more shots. You're seeing the development in his game. And so, all of those things, I think are reasons why Jeff is getting as many opportunities which is fine as long as the team gets the production.
And that's what this season is all about. As Danny mentioned, Stevens started three guys last night that should be college seniors right now against a veteran team that's been contending for a decade. It's all about getting these guys touches and used to the pro game. There's been a lot of talk about whether or not Jeff Green can be The Man and there have been nights where #8 has shown glimpses of stardom, but those are conversations better left for another day. Not only is Rondo still on the mend and we still don't know how he fits with this team, but the team has too many young players to develop right now that the team doesn't need to define a go-to player. I think Stevens understands that. Check out the minutes played, the usage rates, and FG attempts from Basketball-Reference.com:
Everybody's getting their touches at a pretty even distribution. We can complain about Gerald Wallace's production or lack there of, but the bottom line is the young guys are getting their looks and they're taking advantage of them. Case in point: Avery Bradley. Ben Rohrbach of WEEI put together a pretty good breakdown of AB's rise as a very good mid-range shooter and Chris Forsberg at ESPN Boston highlights Bradley's jumper as one of the bright spots in Boston's poor offensive numbers. Maybe it's the fact that he's in a contract year or that he's not playing point guard anymore, but Avery just looks more confident out there and the numbers don't lie.
As Danny noted, we're seeing the same transformation from Sullinger. He put up 19 and 17 against the Spurs last night and 26 and 8 last Friday at home vs. Portland in the only two times this season that he's played over 30 minutes. As he gets back into shape, expect similar production from the big man. Sullinger and Bradley are perfect examples of Danny recognizing talent, being patient with young players, and finally reaping the benefits of waiting.
At some point, Kelly Olynyk will catch up to the learning curve. Before last night's team high 37 minutes, he averaged half that over the last three games. Stevens opted to start Vitor Faverani against Nikola Pekovic and Dwight Howard, but I'm hoping the next time those types of matchups come up again, Kelly gets the first crack. He's going to need those bumps and bruises to figure out what works and what doesn't. And when all these pieces finally come together, we'll see the best of Jeff Green. Rondo will presumably be back and Green will slide right into the comfortable role as utility man that made him great last season.
My guess is, Stevens won't tinker too much with the starting lineup going forward. Outside of Rondo's eventual return, this is the starting 5 that should be getting the bulk of the minutes. They're the future of the franchise and need time to gel together as a unit. Make or miss, win or lose, lottery or playoffs, Rondo/Bradley/Green/Sullinger/Olynyk have to play together as much as possible.