Before we move on to The NBA Finals, it makes sense to pause and appreciate how we got here. Namely in part due to the efforts of two guys that no longer hold the same roles that they did for several years before.
Look up and down the roster and you’ll see guys that Danny Ainge drafted or signed. Not only that, but guys that are scrappy, coachable, and fierce competitors. The core of the team was built on lottery picks that led to Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. None were consensus picks at the time, but all rewarded Ainge for his faith in them at the time.
Further down the draft board, Ainge was able to use non-lottery picks to add Robert Williams III, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard. Not every pick panned out, but enough of them worked out to build a championship contender. Free agents Al Horford and Daniel Theis ironically are back for a 2nd stint, but were originally added by Ainge as well.
Brad Stevens took over for Ainge as President of Basketball Ops, but not before laying a foundation of coaching and teaching principles to the core group of players on this team. A big believer in the growth mindset, Stevens preached continued long term progress, regardless of the short term outcomes.
For review, here’s how the Harvard Business Review defines growth mindset.
Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation.
Go right down the line and you can see how a different mentality could have stunted this team. Tatum was an isolation scorer in college. Jaylen Brown was an athlete with tunnel vision and lack of feel for the game. Marcus Smart couldn’t shoot. The list goes on.
Brad Stevens and the Celtics saw more in these guys. He didn’t know exactly where the journey would lead to, but he invested in them and imprinted his future focus on their subconscious.
A lot is rightfully made about the impact that Ime Udoka has had on this team. But he was hand picked by Brad Stevens for a reason. The lessons Ime teaches are built on the foundation that Stevens laid down. In a sense, Brad led them through the desert to find water, and Ime has handed them a cup to drink with.
You’ve seen it play out throughout the year. Ime provided the vision of switchable defense and ball movement on offense. They struggled with it early on, but they found their footing in time and it has led to that long term success that they’ve always been focused on.
You’ve seen it play out during the postseason as well. Against the Nets, the focus was on slowing down a guy that might be the greatest scorer ever. Against the Bucks, they had to get past perhaps the best player in the game today and a stout defense that clogs the paint. Against the Heat, they faced perhaps the greatest coach in the sport and one of the most resilient players in the sport. Each posed a different threat and each had to be overcome in different ways.
This team hasn’t just grown up before our very eyes; they are learning and adapting in real time on the biggest stage in the world. That takes a special kind of personality, specifically the kinds of guys that Danny Ainge looked for. That takes a special kind of mindset, specifically the approach that Brad Stevens preached. And now, this team is special under the coaching of Ime Udoka.
The path forward was established by the steps it took to get here. There’s more work to do, but they have the right people and approach in place to keep pushing towards that ultimate goal of an NBA championship and Banner 18.