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In defense of Brad Stevens

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The Celtics coach is one of the best coaches in the NBA.

Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Earlier this week, news broke about Indiana firing head coach Archie Miller. Over the next 48-72 hours, social media was abuzz with the notion that Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens could be interested in swapping the NBA for his home state college.

Fans and media alike were intrigued on where Stevens stood on this subject, speculating what it could mean for the Celtics in the short and long term. It didn’t take long for Brad Stevens to quash the rumors, as he committed his future to the Celtics to a live radio audience.

Here’s the funny thing: this is the same Brad Stevens who’s taking the brunt of the blame for the Celtics 20-20 record and the same Brad Stevens who guided the Celtics to three conference finals in the last four years and the same Brad Stevens who has developed all the stars we currently adore on the team.

Oh, how short our memories are and how fickle we are in our support.

Two years ago, Stevens was a deity, a basketball god whose wisdom knew no bounds. Here was a man who took journeyman veterans and revitalized their careers. Jordan Crawford became a Player of the Week, Evan Turner got paid by Portland, Isaiah Thomas went from benchwarmer to MVP candidate - and they all did so under Stevens tutelage.

Alongside his ability to breathe life into old dogs, the Celtics coach instilled a brand of basketball that resonated with Celtics fans everywhere. A bullish, in-your-face, never-say-die, high-octane basketball philosophy spoke to Celtics fans both near and far, captivating the underdog mentality in all of us.

Then the cracks started to show.

An ill-fated season that saw Kyrie Irving and Al Horford all depart in one summer had people questioning Stevens’ ability to handle star personalities. It’s one thing to conjure miracles but another to harness lightning. Can a team with multiple stars win it all if their coach can’t manage their egos?

Yet, despite the exodus of 2019, the Celtics still clawed their way to the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals before ultimately falling short against a Miami Heat team many expected Boston to dominate.

When the Celtics were winning games, what did we hear about Stevens? Crickets. The moment they lost the series, we returned to the “fire Brad” narrative that’s so rife within the Celtics social media ecosystem. There was zero compassion for the length of time the Celtics had resided in the bubble or their roster being hindered due to injury for the umpteenth time. Nope, it was simply Stevens’ fault and his fault alone.

There may be some justified handwringing over Stevens’ use of timeouts when the team is struggling and his rotations can sometimes be questionable at best - but here’s a young coach that’s learning and adjusting with every different season.

Remember, Stevens’ has only missed the playoffs in his inaugural season. Consider that the Indiana native also boasts a 338-266 regular season record and is already fourth all-time in regular-season wins for the franchise. And in the playoffs? Well, Stevens’ is sitting fifth all-time among Celtics coaches with a 37-36 record. All of this while coaching arguably three roster iterations over the last eight years.

When the Celtics were a vibrant attacking team, we saw them run an innovative offensive scheme, embracing the three-point revolution with clever ATO calls and transition offense that simply purred. This year has been different, though. The Celtics don’t currently boast many athletic players to utilize transition basketball, and their current crop of bench guys are limited from a technical aspect.

As such, we see a mundane offense littered with slow-paced pick-and-roll play and a limited amount of ball movement. Does this mean that Stevens has miraculously forgotten how to coach? Or is it simply due to a limited amount of talent at his disposal?

No longer do the Celtics have veterans like an Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, or even Kelly Olynyk coming off the bench. Instead, they’re relying on a Semi Ojeleye or Jeff Teague to get things done - quite the drop-off, if we’re being honest.

You can only work with the tools at your disposal, and when those tools are blunt, it’s generally going to be a hard slog to get a finished product (or something close).

So, where does this distaste for Stevens stem? Is it his calmness? A perceived lack of personality? Or, perhaps he’s not seen as an authoritarian because he’s not acting a fool on the sidelines after every play, as we see with Nick Nurse. Or a quick wit with the media, throwing verbal slap downs as we do with Greg Popovich.

The logical answer is a blend of all of these, sprinkled with nuanced gripes to allow for personal opinion. Yet, weren’t we all taught that “it’s the quiet ones you have to watch” in school? What makes us think that Stevens isn’t tearing into this squad in the locker room? But that doesn’t fit the narrative, right?

What fits is that Boston is a hard-nosed city, built on winning at all costs. A town where shrinking violets are trampled, and only the rough and ready thrive. A sports city so enshrined in championships that anything but a banner is a failure - nevermind the overachievement that got you within shouting distance of Banner 18. Unfortunately, the league is unforgiving, and the talent level is ever rising, so winning has been in short supply for the faithful.

And do we honestly believe that Stevens has lost the locker room? Because players are walking the court when their coach is yelling to push? Or are the players simply exhausted from a grueling truncated season that allows little time for recuperation before boarding a flight halfway across the country?

Sure, Stevens has clearly been preaching ball movement, and the ball hasn’t been moving much. That doesn’t mean the players aren’t listening, but rather, there are limited options that can genuinely make an impact with the rock in their hands. I get it, there have been games where the Celtics have looked sluggish and off the pace - Cleveland was one of those games. Yet, we see the team battle on both ends of the floor more often than not - you don’t do that if you want the coach out of town - you mail it in.

Finally, ask yourself this, what coach, NBA or otherwise who is available, would come to Boston and do a better job than what Stevens is doing? Not just orchestrating sets or being animated on the sideline - but in developing a team ethos, structuring young players’ workloads, and implementing a brand of basketball that encourages both individual and collective growth.

That’s a mighty short list, all of whom currently occupy other NBA coaching jobs or some little-known gem coaching in a basement somewhere outside Idaho.

Unfortunately, the Celtics aren’t good enough as currently constructed to avoid any further blips this season - the rollercoaster is inevitable. As such, we’re going to keep seeing Stevens get blasted across every medium known to humankind. This Stevens-to-IU rumor could be just another loop-de-loop on this ride, but until we hear from Stevens himself, let’s appreciate what he’s done for the franchise and support what he will do going forward, regardless of the outcome.