Well, I can’t say this was expected.
The Boston Celtics have announced Brad Stevens has moved to the front office as the President of Basketball Operations, taking over for Danny Ainge and stepping away from the sidelines. While the last season has been tumultuous in Boston, Stevens transitioning out of coaching wasn’t on my bingo card.
Given the quick nature of this announcement following the Celtics postseason defeat at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday night, this move has been in the works for a while. What that also likely means: there’s a guy the team already has in mind. Rarely do teams make such a drastic shakeup without the contingency in place.
Instead of trying to throw darts at the board for who that might be, let’s throw darts out there for different names that make sense for the Celtics’ current situation. Some of that requires a look at who is legitimately available, what the Celtics need from the position and how to propel this franchise to the next level and Banner 18.
The Current Needs
Typically for a playoff team, a coaching change is meant to be more of a tactical shuffling or the adding of a different voice to the locker room. More winning experience and a pedigree of success. The ying to the former guy’s yang. But looking for someone different than Stevens might not be the simplest approach considering Stevens will, in all likelihood, be the one doing the hiring.
Whoever comes in will report to Brad, so the relationship and synergy between the two is important. Stevens was a great tactician; I get the sense if there is one difference to leverage, it would be bringing in a more dynamic personality who is more an energy-giver to the team.
If we’re to look at the future of the roster, the team will be built around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two max contract talents. Stevens will be tasked with finding affordable (mainly young) talent to surround the star power of those two, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart. The next coach should have a player development focus to prepare those youngsters for the rigors of postseason play in a supporting role.
He or she should also be able to create an environment where veterans would be willing to come off the buyout market for the minimum exception. A rapport around the NBA, either through a track record for success or the building of a culture that veterans and agents are attracted to, will go a long way in convincing important contributors to join a Celtics franchise that’s often been viewed as unloyal to its players, business-like and cold.
There’s one other elephant in the room to address, one that’s uncomfortable for many. Race will likely play a large role in this process, and deservedly so. Recent incidents surrounding athletes in Boston, the social leadership of JB on issues involving race and the relatability to a diverse locker room are all legitimate reasons why this specific vacancy would be enhanced by a minority coach.
At the crux of any coaching hire is the reality that the title window is open, albeit slightly more narrow than in 2020. Perhaps that’s pessimism from a strange COVID-shortened season. Regardless, the Eastern Conference has gotten better at the top. A two-man duo of Tatum and Brown won’t win the East themselves, and an aging Kemba Walker means more help is needed. That responsibility lands on the front office, but acknowledging the importance of bringing on the right coach who can lead the team at that elite level is necessary.
The Celtics will look internally at Jerome Allen, Scott Morrison, and long-time assistant Jay Larranaga. NBC Sports’ Brian Scalabrine suggests that Stevens could tap Kara Lawson after spending a year on the Boston bench before heading to Duke’s women’s team. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reports that Jason Kidd is on a list of potential candidates and Vince Goodwill has former Celtic Chauncey Billups expected to be interviewed. There might be some clamoring for Mike Krzyzewski now that he’s retiring from Duke, but he plans to play out next season in Durham. Here are a few other names to consider:
Sometimes simple logic is all you need. The best person to lead a team to the promised land is someone who has been there before. Here are a few guys who have been NBA head coaches before that could be worth monitoring:
Mike Brown, Golden State Warriors assistant coach - Brown was in Indiana as the Pacers assistant while Brad Stevens was up the road at Butler. Brown has coached championship teams before, both as an assistant with the Warriors and the head coach of the LeBron-lead Cleveland Cavaliers. If Brown has the itch to be a head guy again, Boston would be a great spot for him to consider.
There’s also a large crop of former head coaches who didn’t attain championship status, but nonetheless proved they are strong NBA voices who are deserving of a second chance. Perhaps Boston, with the talent on the roster and stable ownership group, provide the best opportunity for a second chance.
Lloyd Pierce, former Atlanta Hawks head coach - Pierce’s tenure in Atlanta didn’t end in the best of ways, but those who have worked with him in Philadelphia swear he’s bound to succeed if given another shot. A solid tactician, Pierce is really active outside the floor to develop relationships and lead in meaningful ways.
Jacque Vaughn, Brooklyn Nets assistant coach - I’ve long been a fan of Vaughn’s playbook and coaching tactics. He ran great offense in Orlando as head coach from 2012-15, he just didn’t have the horses to keep up. He impressed enough as the interim from Kenny Atkinson’s abrupt firing in Brooklyn last year to garner a full-time spot as assistant head coach. There’s a lot to like here.
The largest pool of candidates are younger coaches eager to get their first crack at the job. Each name is likely on a shortlist elsewhere and could provide a spark to the organization thanks to their youth while having a mentor in Stevens available to help.
Sam Cassell, Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach - Cassell won a ring in Boston and is a protege of former Celtics coach Doc Rivers. There’s little doubt Cassell will be a head coach soon and is considered one of the trendy names for the job. He’s a former All-Star who has the playing pedigree to command a locker room and over a decade of NBA coaching experience to prove he’s ready for the job.
Darvin Ham, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach - Ham is incredibly well respected as a tactician and coaching mind. He’s been a finalist for other NBA jobs the last few years and has grown under Mike Budenholzer the last couple of seasons in Atlanta and Milwaukee.
Becky Hammon, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach - Hammon comes as well-regarded as any candidate without head coaching experience. She comes from the Gregg Popovich system, is a fantastic leader and is more than qualified to lead a championship-caliber team.
Ronald Nored, Charlotte Hornets assistant coach - Falling under the Brad Stevens coaching tree has its advantages. Nored, a former standout at Butler, spent two years with the Celtics before taking of the Nets G-League team. He’s now worked with the Hornets, gritting his teeth in the big leagues, and is quickly rising through the ranks.
Wes Unseld Jr., Denver Nuggets assistant coach - A super hard worker with a great pedigree, Unseld has been responsible for helping the Nuggets reach top status in the vaunted Western Conference. He’s been an NBA assistant for 16 years, spearheading the development of guys like Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
David Vanterpool, Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach - The guy who seemingly always finishes second in head coaching searches, Vanterpool has been a rising star in the profession for a number of years. He brings a player development background and is seemingly beloved by those who play for him.
Outside the Box
Let’s get funky. Some candidates who might make sense don’t fall into those other categories and bring a different perspective to the post.
Steve Clifford, current Orlando Magic head coach - Clifford isn’t exactly a retread since he’s a sitting coach and has a few playoff berths to his name. Clifford, a Maine guy at heart, is a tremendous tactical coach who constantly overachieves and puts together good defenses. He’s really well-respected within the coaching community. Brad being attracted to him wouldn’t be a surprise.
Juwan Howard, Michigan Wolverines head coach - Howard has excelled at Michigan as the head coach there. He may be too comfortable at his alma mater to consider a jump back to the NBA, but his success with the Miami Heat and the relationships he developed with so many star players mean he’s perfect for the job if he’d be willing to take it.