When he started in Boston, Brad Stevens stressed that he's a process oriented guy. He didn't set up a lot of long term goals, just constant improvement over time. That aligns perfectly with a rebuilding team concept. As a coach, you always want to win, but it is more important that you use these months to prepare them to win more later.
The first step, it would seem, is to keep competing, even in the midst of a losing season.
"I think you have to give Brad Stevens the lion’s share of the credit because he has this team playing hard, playing with energy, and playing with a purpose deep into March," says sportsillustrated.cnn.com's Chris Mannix. "This is not an easy thing to do when you’re losing game after game and your general manager and your front office are trading away assets left and right to put yourself in a better draft position. It can be demoralizing for a locker room."
The Celtics are still fighting, as evidenced by their win over the LeBron-less Miami Heat. Yet they still have a ways to go, as evidenced by their blowout loss at the hands of the surging Brooklyn Nets. Stevens never gets too excited over a win nor does he get too low after a loss. Each is a unique learning opportunity.
One lesson he keeps pounding into the players' heads is to take the right shot.
When it comes to bigs like Olynyk or Sullinger shooting 3s - or any player for that matter - Stevens has one rule. "Take the right shot in that possession," Stevens said. "Take what's the best opportunity in that possession." And during their recent conversation, Stevens made a point of reinforcing that message. "I know you can shoot it better than your percentages," Stevens recalled telling Sullinger. "And I hope that you continue to shoot the ball confidently."
The bigs are listening to him too. Olynyk in particular is shooting the ball a lot better (42% in March). Sullinger is going in the opposite direction (19% this month) but as you can tell from the above quote, Stevens wants him to keep shooting. Practice makes perfect and these games are a perfect chance for these guys to work on their skills in a game situation.
Soon the games will be over and summer will begin. That doesn't mean that the teaching opportunities will not continue. Like any good teacher, Stevens will send the players home with homework and even some grades to give them a realistic analysis of their progress.
It’s not a stretch to believe that Stevens might make similar DVDs and intricate stat sheets for every Celtics player. When asked if that would be the case, he said that every season was different but that "you always want to put time and thought into how guys can improve during the offseason."
Stevens had given a similar response with regards to offseason preparation after being asked if he might grade players on their regular-season performance. "I think it’s more about, let’s define reality of where we are collectively, where you are individually," Stevens said. "It’s a great time to do that, because you don’t have a game for six months. Your confidence isn’t necessarily going to be affected because you don’t play the next day, those types of things, good and bad.
The Celtics young players will have Summer League shortly after the NBA Draft then it is a long few months until the Fall brings them back to training camp. Hopefully they can keep in contact with Stevens and the rest of the coaching staff to stay on top of the progress they make over the summer. Some players in the past have even elected to spend much of the summer working out in Waltham.
Danny Ainge made the comment recently that development of the players in uniform is more important than where the team falls in the standings for lottery percentages. Regardless of how much you agree with that statement, I think it is clear that player development is paramount to a rebuilding effort.
Sure, some of these players could be traded away this summer, never to wear Celtics green again. But anyone that wears the name Celtics on their jersey should be working as if they'll be Boston lifers. That's the kind of worth ethic that we want in our future stars and support players. That's what makes champions and banners for future generations to enjoy.
You can't take shortcuts though. There's no rushing the process. So Brad Stevens will patiently wait for the messages to get through and guide these players each step of the way.