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How Brad Stevens approaches the trade deadline

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Stevens prepares all year for the deadline, making the rush of the week leading up to it less hectic for him.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens put the phone down one final time on February 19th, 2015. In his second year as head coach, Danny Ainge told him the Celtics would make no moves again. It was 11:50 on the west coast, where the C’s would face the Kings that night. His team began arriving for a 12:15 team meeting that included then Celtics Tayshaun Prince and Marcus Thornton.

Within ten minutes, the faxes starting churning to beat the 3:00 p.m. deadline on the east coast. Ainge beat the buzzer and Prince and Thornton no longer played for Stevens.

“I think one of them knew on Twitter that they had been traded, the other didn’t,” Stevens remembered. “That’s just the way the world works unfortunately. You’re preparing for the next game, you’re preparing for the next practice, and sometimes, that life stuff creeps in and happens. That’s why the deadline’s a fun day for all who aren’t involved, but can certainly be not as fun for the guys involved.”

Boston Celtics Practice Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While stressful for players, Stevens mitigates the rush of deadline week and leaves the job to Ainge. Stevens’ end happens throughout the year. For every game Boston plays, he watches three-times as much film on those opponents and points out to Ainge specific players he likes. In turn, the Celtics come to him with both ideas and ongoing negotiations.

Boston hasn’t made a deadline deal since acquiring Isaiah Thomas on that day. As a flurry of deals beat the deadline buzzer, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski famously tweeted “good lord.”

As Stevens notes, Boston hasn’t been the picture of continuity since. Even though deals haven’t come on deadline day, he’s fitted players in and out for each other at a rapid pace as Ainge changed the team almost completely between 2014-16 and again in 2019.

This season, there could be some stability. “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of changes,” Stevens said of tomorrow’s deadline. “It would only be with the idea of improving the team.”

Boston already found itself part of two rumors this week. One already passed with Clint Capela’s reported trade to the Hawks. The other involves a possible buyout move with old friend Evan Turner. Either way, 2015 taught Stevens to both prepare for anything and implore his team the power of each game toward the end of the regular season.

Those Celtics stood a game and a half back of the playoffs at the time and after a scorching second half, reached the 7th seed after finishing in the lottery the year before. Stevens still presses that this group could still finish between #2 and #6. Each game adds up toward that finish, as it did in 2015. That’s the key to a young team surviving the stress of the next 24 hours.

“A lot of times, there’s times in the schedule it’s important to be able to compartmentalize the game, the task at hand,” he said. “Not think back, think forward, but stay in that moment.”