NBC Sports Boston’s Michael Holley caught up with President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens at ABCD’s Hoop Dreams basketball tournament on Tuesday to talk about the charity and the state of the Celtics. Coming off a difficult loss to the Bulls on Monday night after giving up a 19-point late third quarter lead, the defeat was compounded by criticism from Marcus Smart and head coach Ime Udoka after the game.
Udoka noted a “lapse of concentration and killer instinct” for the Celtics’ third consecutive loss, but it was Smart’s pointed critique of the offense and more so, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s growing pains as playmakers that might have hit harder than one game out of an 82-game regular season. But for Stevens who now has a “10,000 foot view” of the team and its progress, he doesn’t seem worried.
“When you’re in it, when you see guys at the facility and you see (Marcus) and Jayson eating breakfast together today and talking about it, ‘how do we come to find a solution for our team’...those guys want to win and at the end of the day, I think that’s the most important thing,” Stevens told Holley.
Stevens coached the Celtics for eight seasons before replacing Danny Ainge in the front office. Those years included three trips to the conference finals in four years and arguably three different iterations of the roster that include his early blue collar teams headed by Isaiah Thomas, the too-much-talent-laden Kyrie Irving squads, and the two final seasons plagued by the pandemic.
While his genius with the X’s and O’s of the game were instrumental in his success as a coach, it was his cool demeanor and even keel approach with his players that separated Stevens from his peers. In contrast as an executive, he’s moved quickly and aggressively to reshape the roster around his two young All-Stars. By replacing Kemba Walker with Al Horford in the summer and retaining their young core this week, Stevens along with Udoka are putting a lot of responsibility on Brown and Tatum to make that next leap and truly become the cornerstones of the franchise.
“When you’re talking about our two young guys, Jaylen and Jayson, their next steps are hard because of where they are right now. They’re already up a ton of steps. An All-Star, two All-Star appearances for Jayson, so those next steps, they take a lot and I do trust that those two guys will make those. Their work, their care, their commitment, I believe they will make those steps,” Stevens said.
But that’s the future. Today, the Celtics are 2-5 and are facing a stretch of games that include three games in four nights on the road and six out of their next eight away from TD Garden. Despite the slow start, Stevens seems cautiously optimistic.
“We’re going to find out,” Stevens said about whether or not the team he’s assembled is the right group of guys. “Last year, we were 8-3 to start the year and it didn’t feel like 8-3 from my perspective, from the seat I was in. I felt like we had a lot of things we had to account for and we had to be a lot better in, and then we got hit with other stuff. Right now at 2-5, I feel a lot better from the structural stuff than 2-5.”