By the end of the regular season (and perhaps well before that) it was clear that the Boston Celtics needed a shakeup of some kind. Well, the playoffs haven’t even reached the NBA Finals and the ground is shaking like one of those old electric football games.
Exit Danny Ainge, enter Brad Stevens. That plan was apparently developed in the lower basement levels of the Pentagon because it shocked the world when it was revealed. In retrospect, you can see the rationale even if we didn’t see it coming.
I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that Stevens “lost the locker room” but as Larry Bird and others have pointed out in the past, most coaches can only last so long before the players need to hear another voice (in particular if the coach hasn’t delivered a title).
Danny Ainge had a really good run but may have lost some of the velocity on his GM two-seamer. Stevens is still one of the sharpest pencils in the box and it made sense to keep him around. In particular, for the job of hiring his replacement. But oddly enough, that wasn’t his first move.
Stevens wasted exactly no time at all making a statement. Debate the “winners and losers” of that trade all you like, but the Horford-Walker deal seemed like one of the most logical options. Sometimes the simplest answers are the best ones.
A major criticism of Danny Ainge in the last few years was that he seemed always to be looking for the perfect deal. Put another way, it appeared that he knew what his price was on deals and he wasn’t going to come off that price for anyone. That’s all well and good when the other team caves, but sometimes there are opportunity costs associated with pushing back from the table. For example, being stuck with too many draft picks and not enough veteran depth on the bench. Decisiveness can be a good thing.
Keep in mind, trades typically are developed over several months or even years of conversations and I would imagine that Danny’s long time relationship with Sam Presti played some part in the framework of that deal. I would imagine that Stevens spent a good deal of time walking through the cap implications with Mike Zarren as well. But at the end of the day, this was Brad’s decision to make and he will get the credit or the blame in the long run.
Brad’s second move seems more like a clear cut winner. At least as much as we can tell in regards to an assistant coach that hasn’t had head coaching experience. Across the board, nobody has anything but glowing things to say about Ime Udoka. Again, in retrospect, nobody should be surprise that Brad Stevens went with a candidate from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree.
He’s got experiences with NBA greats like Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, James Harden and others. He got the stamp of approval from the Celtics core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. He even has experience with ex-and-current Celtics like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker (on Team USA), and Al Horford (in Philly). He’s known as a guy that can make solid connections with players while still delivering hard messages when the situation calls for it, which sounds like exactly the kind of voice this team needed.
Oh, and he’s also known as a defensive minded coach. Which is another thing this team sorely needed after last season’s performance. If he can find the right buttons to push and put the right pieces in place to get a few additional stops per game, that could push Boston up a few seeds in the standings alone.
Personally I’d like to see him bring in a lead assistant coach, perhaps with head coaching experience and preferably someone with a mind for offense. Not sure who that would be and chances are we’ll have to wait and see who’s left after the head coaching openings are filled. None of this is to shed doubt on Ime’s abilities, but he’s a rookie head coach and any help he can get I’m sure he’d welcome. We’ll also see who else he brings in to fill out his staff and if he decides to retain anyone from Brad’s staff.
Back to Stevens, he clearly has a lot more work to do. The good news is that the hardest part (finding two younger star level players) has already been done for him. But building around those stars isn’t exactly easy.
Still, the Celtics looked like a rudderless team with a bloated payroll and limited upside just a few weeks ago. Now the team feels like they’ve got a new direction, fresh voices, and a lot more financial flexibility moving forward. There’s a lot of offseason left and who knows how this will all translate on the court. But so far I’m liking what I’m seeing from Brad Stevens the President of Basketball Operations.