The NBA has seemingly gone mad lately. We’ve got the Cavaliers feuding in a team meeting, the Bucks just fired their head coach, Damian Lillard is having clandestine meetings with the team owner, and apparently Kawhi Leonard is reportedly less than happy in San Antonio.
Meanwhile, despite a recent 4 game losing skid, the Celtics seem (at least from my thrice removed vantage point) to be moving forward in the right direction. They even recently had a (dramatic pause) team meeting! But by all accounts there was no shouting, no pointing fingers, no drama. Just working together to figure things out.
Kyrie Irving describes the rationale behind the meeting. (via Jay King)
“When you’re hitting a lull of losing games you can tend to go your own direction and try to figure it out on your own,” said Irving, who registered 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists against the Clippers. “For us, we have great leadership at the top with (head coach) Brad (Stevens), and he echoes a message to us leaders on the team, and then we go out there and try to maximize that opportunity of getting better every single day. And I think that we did a great job of just putting everything out on the table. And it’s just about being professional and going out there and executing.”
Despite being without Al Horford and Marcus smart last night, the team was able to execute well enough to defeat the Clippers.
Mind you, this is the same team that turned over most of the roster, traded away a wildly popular MVP candidate, brought in a guy that demanded a trade from his former team, and saw their marquee free agent go down with an injury in the first 5 minutes of the season. They even rely upon 5 rookies to contribute (to varying degrees). If any team had reason to get a little off kilter and sideways, it would be Boston.
Yet here we are in late January and the team still sits atop the Eastern Conference. Kyrie Irving is our new MVP candidate. Al Horford is joining him in the All Star game. Jaylen Brown has taken a leap forward. Jayson Tatum is the jewel of the draft. Future draft picks are showing promise of being valuable commodities. Everything seems to be in its proper place.
So how are they able to maintain this stable dynamic? Through a solid structure.
The face of this tranquil order is Brad “Dad” Stevens. Nothing fazes him, nothing ruffles his feathers. He’s as competitive and demanding as any head coach, but he goes about it in his own unique way that seems to resonate with players. Notice how Kyrie gives credit to him in the quote above.
Above Stevens is “Trader” Danny Ainge. A study of contrasts if ever there was one. He’s as fiercely competitive as he was in his brash playing days, but calculating and patient as well. He’s open to hearing inputs from anyone in the organization at any level, but blissfully unaffected by popular opinion and news cycles. He’s a family man and by all accounts a nice guy, but he’s proven that he’ll trade anyone, any time, if the deal is beneficial to the Celtics. Nobody is in any doubt about who’s in charge here.
For that, you have to give a lot of credit to the Celtics ownership group, led by Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca. They seem to really enjoy and understand basketball without getting in the way of the people that they’ve hired to run the team. They haven’t embarrassed the franchise as some owners have. They are willing to spend on the team (within reason). How different would things be if the Knicks (for example) could say the same?
I don’t wish to take anything away from the players themselves. Kyrie seems to relish the thoughtful mentor role. Al Horfod is Mr. Rogers with a post-up game. Jayson Tatum is a 10 year veteran in a 19 year old body. These guys have bought in and are playing for each other even through tough streaks and the results speak for themselves.
As the league devolves into chaos and mayhem leading up to the NBA trade deadline, it is comforting to know that the Celtics seem to have a strong organization with support structures at every level. That speaks well to the current situation and going forward into the future.