Even with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Celtics' biggest star might be Brad Stevens

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Even with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Celtics' biggest star might be Brad Stevens Empty Even with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Celtics' biggest star might be Brad Stevens

Post by bobheckler on Sat Sep 02, 2017 12:39 pm


Even with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Celtics' biggest star might be Brad Stevens

Arrivals of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward highlight how influential Boston's fifth-year coach already is

    Matt Moore
mugshot by Matt Moore

18h ago • 5 min read

The Boston Celtics introduced their new star core on Friday, with Kyrie Irving surreally taking his place next to Gordon Hayward on the dais. The presser was filled with the usual pomp and circumstance and polite commentary. Danny Ainge refused to answer questions about the process of acquiring Irving and the holdup over Isaiah Thomas' hip. Irving called the Celtics an "illustrious" organization (about four times), while Hayward said the difference in Boston's fans was how intelligent they are. (One more for the road, Jazz fans. )

Irving commented on his relationship with LeBron James, briefly, saying he hadn't spoken to his superstar former teammate, but that a bond of brotherhood would always be there (despite Irving specifically asking to end their partnership).

But lost in the bigger headlines and the "wow" moment of this new "super-team" was a subtle indication of where the Celtics have transitioned to.

Boston Celtics ✔ @celtics
"Coach Stevens was the first person who made me think that maybe I could get [to the NBA] someday," says @gordonhayward.
8:43 AM - Sep 1, 2017
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Stevens was one of the first people Irving mentioned when saying why he was so excited to join Boston.

"The people that are here at this organization, the people that they have, Coach Stevens, I think I've kind of scratched the surface of what I can become," Hayward said. "And I think being here with the city and the fans, it's really exciting to be here."

Brad Stevens came into the league with unprecedented standing credit for a college coach who had never spent a day in the NBA. Almost immediately, there was a growing sense of his being something special in a profession in which coaches are often an afterthought. Other coaches credited him. Players made mention of what he brought. The team immediately began to outperform expectations.

Some of the credit came as the cart before the horse. He never won a playoff series until just this past season, getting swept by the Cavaliers in 2015 and bounced by the Hawks in 2016. Even this year, the Celtics went down 2-0 to start the first round against Chicago and were dragged to seven games vs. Washington, and then were smacked into oblivion by the Cavaliers. Still, the feeling league-wide is that the Celtics overachieved last season because of Stevens, his system and his approach.

In 2016, when Al Horford became the Celtics' first major free-agency signing in decades, Stevens was discussed as a selling point, but there were a lot of factors. With Hayward, however, it's clear from both his comments in the press conference Friday and his Players' Tribune announcement in July that Stevens played a heavy role in his decision.

It was such a tough decision. But there was one person who I knew I could talk to about it from every angle, who I knew would give me the smartest and most honest perspective available: Coach Stevens.

Coach Stevens was so great about it, all of it. He helped me lay out my options, and talked it through from both sides … but in the end, when I needed it, he also gave me my space. And he also let me know that it was my choice to make — and that he would be there for me, on the other side of it, either way. And of course I ended up deciding to leave: I declared for the draft, and got drafted, and started my new NBA life in Utah. But it always meant a lot to me, to know how, in that moment, even with our lives at this strange crossroads together, Coach Stevens was someone I could count on.

via Thank You, Utah | By Gordon Hayward.

In many ways, if you want to look at the star power on the Celtics, you have to include Stevens. Stevens was used as a selling point to recruit Hayward and Horford, and to get assurances from Irving's camp he would be open to re-signing with Boston in two years.

Stevens' system preaches ball movement and flexibility, two things that Irving hasn't excelled at in Cleveland. That's part of what makes this such a grand experiment. The Celtics' hypothesis is that Irving has potential was not unlocked in his time in Cleveland. Tyronn Lue won a title, but few are calling him a genius. The same goes for Irving's other former coaches in Mike Brown, Byron Scott and David Blatt. But Stevens is often labeled that way.

Quantifying Stevens' impact is difficult, near impossible. The Celtics' defense was tremendous in 2016, and then regressed in a major way in 2017. His offense was mediocre at best in 2016, and was among the top five last season. There are little signs, like how much the ball moves, or the fact that the Celtics ranked second and third last season in side-out-of-bounds and after-time-out offense per possession.

The bigger key might be how Stevens not only makes his teams better, but never, ever takes credit for it. A lot of coaches could have fallen into the trap of making too much of their own impacts. But Stevens has been tight with his one-on-one interviews, has shunned most profiles and redirects credit to his players at every turn. That's what every NBA player wants: a coach that gets the most out of them while never taking the credit away. They also want a coach who empowers and frees them to be the best players they can be.

With Hayward, that will be a cinch. He's coachable and flexible, can work on and off the ball. He has a standing relationship with Stevens. Horford, too, won't present any issues, and is always willing to adapt to what's asked. Irving is a different matter. Irving has strong opinions, on a lot of things, but particularly his game, and he often elects to pursue his own instincts rather than schemed play. How that plays out in Boston will be key to their success.

More than anything, a pattern is taking shape. The Celtics haven't had the ability to pursue really big player acquisitions through the years. They have found a strong recruiting weapon that makes them a magnet for smart players that want to win. The Celtics have traded three of their five starters from a team that reached the conference finals, and if this experiment goes awry, Danny Ainge won't hesitate to keep searching for upgrades.

It doesn't matter that Stevens has only won two playoff series in his young career: It's clear to everyone that the Celtics' biggest superstar might be the one on the sideline.

MY NOTE: I'm a fan of Brad's, obviously, but this might be a little overdone. He convinced Hayward because of their history and Irving was traded here. He had nothing to say about where he landed, and we gave up a ton to get him. It had nothing to do with Brad. Horford? Absolutely. That was a true free agent signing of a high-quality player with no previous history with Brad and who came because he impressed with Brad's presentation and from watching him coach vs the Hawks in the playoffs.


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Post by k_j_88 on Tue Sep 05, 2017 6:25 pm

Watching Brad put a team together with very limited time and only 4 returning players will be interesting to watch. If he accomplishes this, perhaps it's a little more safe to say?


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Post by willjr on Tue Sep 05, 2017 9:56 pm

Everybody loves Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics

Everybody loves Brad Stevens

Rich with rebuilding pieces, Stevens shines above the rest.
by Keith P Smith  Sep 5, 2017

Brad Stevens was hired as the Boston Celtics head coach prior to the 2013-14 season. Danny Ainge had just traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and it was clear the team was kicking off a rebuild. Stevens had Rajon Rondo to spearhead those efforts, but he was coming off a torn ACL and wouldn’t be available until later in the season. Upon Rondo’s return, it was clear he wasn’t the same All-Star-level player that he had been prior to his injury. At that point, all attention shifted to bundle of picks acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in return for Pierce and Garnett. All in all, the Celtics had three first-round picks and the rights to swap another. Since that point, #NetsPick had become the apple of Celtics Nation’s eye.

Ainge continued his aggressive rebuild by trading Rondo the next year and executing several other deals to ship away role players and to continue adding more draft picks to his treasure chest. By the time the smoke cleared, the Celtics were a playoff team again, even advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals just a scant four years after the rebuild began.

Over the course of those four years a whopping 42 different players appeared in at least one regular season game for Boston. That is a number reflecting a rebuilding team. In fact, the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been in their “Trust the Process” phase during that same period, have taken a similar approach. They’ve cycled through players and collected draft picks while hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and find themselves a franchise player. Assuming health and continued development, Philadelphia seems well on their way with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.

The difference between the Celtics and 76ers? Philly hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in the last five years. The Celtics had a one-year absence and steadily climbed the standings since then, going from 12th to 7th to 5th to 1st in the East. After this summer’s wheeling and dealing saw the Celtics turn over all but four players, Marcus Smart stands as Boston’s longest-tenured player, stretching all the way back to his rookie year in 2014-15. While watching the revolving door of players come and go, only Stevens remains from when that rebuild kicked off in the summer of 2013.

That much improvement, while turning over the roster as such a rapid rate, only comes with consistency somewhere in the organization. For the Celtics, that consistency comes from Stevens. Not unlike Sam Hinkie down I-95 a ways, Stevens has stressed that it is a process. He prefers to take steps in increments towards the big picture, as opposed to working backwards towards the details. This approach has allowed him to start and re-start the team building process over and over again, as Ainge completes trade after trade.

But, much like the Drake song states: “we started from the bottom, now we’re here.” Despite seeing 11 players who finished last year with the Celtics, many of them contributors, Boston isn’t building a contender. The time for contention is already here. Stevens no longer has the affordability of building slowly. Sure, the Celtics may get off to a slow start as the team gels, but they had better be ready to win when it really matters in the postseason.

How do they get there? By trusting the guy who has the process down pat. Stevens will experiment early on, likely by playing as many as 11 to 12 guys regularly and shuffling lineup combinations from game to game. This has been his approach every season, and with 11 new players, there is no reason to adjust that now. Only Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and Kyrie Irving seem like locks to start from night to night. The other spots can and will be filled by any number of other Celtics.

Ainge has given Stevens an incredibly versatile roster, capable of going big or small on offense or defense. This fits Stevens’ style, which eschews traditional designations like point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. Heck, he even goes away from guard, forward and center. Stevens plays what he calls ball handlers, wings and bigs. Anyone who can fill multiple roles is a swing. The Celtics roster is stocked with wings and swings, has more than enough ball handlers, but seems a touch short in the big department. That problem is on Ainge to address with the final open roster spot.

In less than a month, Brad Stevens will take the court to lead his team through his fifth training camp. This time it feels different—instead of hope and optimism, there are expectations. Banner-18-level expectations. The good thing for the Celtics is that the man on the sideline seems like the guy to lead them there.

Last February, Stevens coached the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star Game. He earned this honor because his team was in first place at mid-season. While it was fun to see Isaiah Thomas take part in All-Star Weekend festivities and to see Stevens on the sideline, there was also some buzz in the building. Several players commented on Stevens’ approach throughout the weekend, which included a montage of each player’s journey to become an All-Star and teaching a complex offense in a simple, plug-and-play fashion. Players from both conferences came away impressed with his calm demeanor, understanding of the game, and knowledge. Even in that short snippet, Stevens was laying groundwork for the future.

In the beginning of June, CelticsBlog talked with several free agents about the importance of the Boston fan base, culture and other topics. Stevens was prominently mentioned in those conversations as well. In the introductory press conference for Hayward and Irving, both directly mentioned Stevens as a key reason for their desire to be with the Celtics.

Hayward isn’t really a surprise. He and Stevens have a relationship that goes back over a decade, to his recruitment to Butler. While he downplayed it some when he was going through the free-agent process, Hayward admitted later that Stevens was a key reason for him choosing Boston over Utah and Miami. The two share a special connection that isn’t common among NBA circles, where players and coaches come and go with regularity.

Irving was a different story. Outside of that brief All-Star experience this year, he’d never played for Stevens. Sure, they had some familiarity from being Eastern Conference competitors, but there was no real relationship. But in his press conference, Irving said “the Celtics were always prepared. You could tell that immediately when you played them.” He followed that up by answering a question about whether Stevens was a direct reason he is excited to be in Boston with, “Yes, his system. I can be taught, while growing. I can gain and share knowledge.”

When you break it down, the haul from the Nets picks is a bit of a mixed bag. James Young was the first draftee, and he flamed out after just a few years, the Celtics declining his fourth-year team option. Jaylen Brown was next. He had a solid enough rookie year and is showing promise. Tasked with a much larger role as a sophomore, Brown is poised to step forward in 2018. The 2017 pick was the swap, and while lottery luck shined on Boston for the first time, Ainge then moved back to draft Jayson Tatum and pick up an additional first-round pick. Tatum impressed in Summer League, but that is a long way from real NBA production. The 2018 Nets pick, and the last of that impressive haul, was shipped to Cleveland, along with Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, as part of the package to acquire Irving.

But the Nets picks were never the best asset Boston had. Neither was Rajon Rondo, who was never the same after tearing his ACL. Neither was Isaiah Thomas, who blossomed into an All-NBA player. Nor will it be Hayward or Irving. The best asset Boston has will never score a point, but he draws up the plays that get those points, including some of the best after-time-out plays the league has seen. He sets the defenses that have consistently outperformed their projection by ensuring that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Brad Stevens is the Celtics’ best recruiter. He’s the reason players want to be in Boston. Brad Stevens is unquestionably the Celtics’ best asset.

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Post by fierce on Tue Sep 05, 2017 10:09 pm

Not silly anymore when we say Brad is one of the best coaches in the NBA.

I was called crazy for saying Brad will be one of the best coaches in the league, like Phil Jackson, back in 2013.

Very Happy

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Post by dboss on Tue Sep 05, 2017 10:16 pm


I agree.  If Brad turns this team into contenders all the appropriate accolades should be 4 coming.

Expectations are sky high for a team that is overwhelmingly new to the Celtics.  This will be no easy task


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