Even if we can admit our overoptimism or ignorance towards certain aspects regarding this season, there is no denying that in the eyes of the fans and media this team has been very disappointing. Their inconsistency has been well documented and the off court drama is enough to frustrate the fan base on its own. Reasons for this decline have been tossed around like backhanded compliments at your in-laws' dinner party; Rozier's decline, inconsistency from Tatum and Brown, Hayward's delayed timetable of recovery, lesser intensity, lackluster defense, Morris' frustrating role, the list goes on. However, there is a certain scapegoat who I have seen receive a lot of the blame, and I find a large portion of it unjustified: the incompetency of Sir Bradley Kent Stevens.
I am not particularly a Stevens stan. I generally try to keep my biases (i.e. my liking of Rozier, or annoyance of Smart's offense, or dislike of Kyrie's diva attitude) out of my observations, and so this defense of the man who Celtics fan UNANIMOUSLY proclaimed the snubbed Coach of the Year just a short season ago is an objective analysis.
It is easy to see that Brad does deserve his fair share of the blame. I recall dubbing him to my brothers (who all follow different NBA teams) the ATO Genius, the Master of Matchups, a coach who promotes team basketball at its finest. Yet there has been a lot less of that this year from Coach Stevens. But let it be said that for every change there is a reason for the said change. I will break down what I believe are the main reasons we've seen CBS struggle this season, as well as rebut some of the foolish things said by fans in reaction to them.
It is easy to forget that one of the primary causes of Gordon Hayward's singing with Boston was, of course, the opportunity to reunite with his former coach. The acquisition of Hayward excited many Celtics fans and brought hopes of a finals appearance at minimum. As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, his injury was devastating. Yet, the crushing disappointment of his absence was replaced with the growing hope of his return. The timetable was set, the milestones were prepared to be passed, and Gordon finally returned to playing the game he loves. That's where this fairy tale diverges. Although he has came very close to being returned to form, the road to recovery was much longer than expected.
So that brings up the issue of his reintegration. Obviously Brad wanted him to grow and adjust back into his role at a pace that was comfortably outside of his comfort zone. At times, however, this proved to be very frustrating, as Hayward struggled to play his game, and others saw a cut off in playing time even if they were outperforming him. The imbalance in the ratio of playing time to playing ability has certainly been Brad's biggest problem of the season, but there's a bright side- the depth chart shrinks come playoff time, and that means that even if a Marcus Morris struggles during the season, Brad won't pick favorites with him and continue to give him a surplus of minutes if he doesn't earn them. In the case of Game 1, Morris was instrumental in staying in the game early, and clearly the decision was proper. As Hayward, too, returns to form, we can expect to see more understandable lineups. (Just look at Horford and Baynes finally getting the start together)
Last year was great, wasn't it? A miracle run, fueled by the exceptional play of our young stars and surprising players bursting onto the scene. Tatum, Rozier, and Brown all played a pivotal role in propelling a young and injured team with a chip on their shoulder take Lebron to 7 games and be a few plays from winning the Eastern Conference. Back to the present, here, and there's been an interesting thing happening with those few; their minutes have unsurprisingly declined. After all, the injured Irving and Hayward have returned, and with them they bring the star persona. I suspect that some of them may not have taken that too well, and with the addition of Kyrie's leadership issues and bipolar media personality, it has been clear throughout the season that the Celtics have had a chemistry problem. Usually a head coach of a dysfunctional team can hash those issues out, but the word "usually" doesn't apply to the world of the National Basketball Association. Lebron James set a precedent of being a player coach without actually holding the title of Player-Coach (Looking at you, Bill), and although no one does it like him, superstars around the league do clearly have a lot of control in the locker room.
Although it is impossible to know what is being said in there, it is almost a certainty that some philosophies of Brad have contradicted with upset role players who've seen a decline in PT, or stars who feel the have the keys and should drive however they like. And, of course, the whole situation gets more volatile when you throw losing into the equation.
The (statistically) increasing success of the Celtics under the Stevens regime, as well as his ability to maximize the potential in any given player, is defined as the "Brad Stevens Effect." After receiving not a single vote last year for CoY, considering his tremendous accomplishments, the cry from the entire Celtics fanbase (and others) was of a snub. And they weren't wrong, either. CBS completely deserved the award last year for his exceptional coaching, both on a game by game scale and a broader picture of player improvement. Hypothetically speaking, what if he heard that noise? Obviously Stevens is remarkably humble, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have said, "Yeah, I really am doing a great job, aren't I?" I have an itching suspicion that might be true, as the style of his coaching has completely changed in just a season, from step by step involvement to a more "I've done everything I can" approach. Some of this is due to the aforementioned two factors, but I think another part of it is simply believing the hype bestowed upon the C's entering this season. Pride cometh before the fall, they say, and we've seen the fall.
Multiple times this year, Brad has said in various interviews, "I'm disappointed in myself." The failure of this season has clearly affected his mojo, and hopefully the humbling experience will return him to the old ways of his coaching style. I have clearly expressed the fact that I think Brad is receiving MORE than his lion's share of the blame for this season, but I have been fair in assessing the faults in his work this season as well. That doesn't mean, however, that any true Celtics fan has the right to say some of the following:
BRAD WAS A GREAT COLLEGE COACH, BUT IT DOESN'T TRANSLATE TO THE NBA
Have you watched any of the seasons previous to this one!? He took a roster full of young but raw talent and turned it into a conference finalist! He has steadily improved the team year after year, building a defensive powerhouse and running an offense based off ball movement and getting optimal shots. It is awfully convenient to hop off the Stevens train after one disappointing year, that still was a win away from 50!
BRAD CAN'T DEAL WITH ISO-BASED ALL STAR TALENT
You might not hear this one as often, but some people seem to think that the issue this year is that Brad doesn't know how to handle a player like Kyrie; get a true offensive talent out there that can create his own plays and Brad's scheme is broken! Well you don't hear it as often because it makes no sense. Isaiah Thomas was a player who was all about shooting the three or using his skill set to create offense, but he fit perfectly into a Celtics system that utilized pick and rolls and he ability to create offense within an offense. (Offenseception!)
BRAD CAN'T CONTROL HIS PLAYERS; HE'S JUST NOT ASSERTIVE
Brad Stevens is not the type of coach who sits back and watches his star play iso ball and maybe score. He wants to be engaged, he wants to be the teacher. His system clearly works, and I guarantee he pushes forward his agenda, and better have it backed by Danny too. This year has definitely proved to be more of a struggle in terms of "let's all listen to Coach" but I have no doubt that when the play is being drawn up to win the game in the playoffs, he's the one writing on the whiteboard.
FIRE BRAD STEVENS!
If you're saying this you're not a Celtics fan.
I am, so as always, Go C's, and In Brad we Trust.