To the readers who enjoy ragging on my youthful appearance, check out the guy in the above photo. That dude’s the new head coach of the Celtics!
That’s right, gone is 51-year-old Doc Rivers and here is 36-year-old prodigy Brad Stevens. The now-former Butler University basketball coach of six seasons will be introduced to the media on Friday morning as the 17th bench boss in the history of the NBA’s most storied franchise. His deal is for a reported six years and $22 million, twice the term of the departed Rivers for essentially the same money.
Earlier this week, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he was in no rush to find Rivers’ replacement. I partially felt that to be true because in the court of public opinion it seemed like assistant coach Jay Larranaga’s job to lose. He’s set to lead the team in the summer league, which appeared to be an audition.
Welp, not so fast.
This is a downright stunner. Of all the quality candidates, nobody had Stevens on their board. Stevens himself couldn’t have seen this coming.
So, is he ready for the job? How ‘bout I ask you another question: Who cares?!
For Ainge, this is the perfect hire. Win-win. Low-risk, high-reward. Some other cliché I can’t think of right now.
The NBA’s new youngest coach had tremendous success at Butler. Stevens set a Division 1 record with 166 victories in his first six seasons and he guided the perennial Cinderella Bulldogs to consecutive national championship games against Duke and UConn in 2010 and 2011, respectively. That six-year run included three Horizon League titles and two league Coach of the Year honors. With only 49 losses, he leaves the college ranks with a career .772 winning percentage, including a 12-5 mark in the Big Dance. He never won fewer than 22 games in a season, and legendary Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called him “the best young coach I have seen in my time.”
That’s an impressive resume, no doubt, but for every person who lauds Stevens there will be seven to remind you how high-profile college coaches like Rick Pitino or John Calipari fared in the pros. Celts fans remember that disastrous Pitino saga all too well.
There’s one glaring difference though: the expectation.
You see, that’s why this is the ideal hire for Ainge and also why you shouldn’t care how ready Stevens is for what’s unquestionably a significant jump. While others have risen from the college ranks with hopes of an almost immediate trip to the Promised Land, Stevens is young, energetic, and poised to grow right along with his players as the organization enters a massive rebuild. Count Rajon Rondo in that group, as I still don’t believe he’ll be traded.
If Stevens does well early, that’s great – add a paragraph to Ainge’s legacy as an executive. But, if the new guy struggles in his first year or two (as some fans will openly be rooting for), that’s a bonus, too. Lottery life, here we come. Ever heard of this Andrew Wiggins kid? Call it tanking if you’d like, but I’d prefer to think of it as hiring the guy who isn’t necessarily ready yet but could be great when he is. Like that spin?
Make no mistake, Stevens is not in Boston to lose. He’s not the 2013-14 version of M.L. Carr, here simply to be the transition guy for the man who finally captures Banner 18. He was under contract in Indianapolis thru 2021-22 and had already passed on opportunities to leave for attractive positions at UCLA and North Carolina State, among others. Trying his hand at the NBA spotlight and culture is a risk, but it’s a calculated one. As Pitino and Calipari can attest, college teams will be waiting if this experiment in Boston doesn’t work out. But, I can assure you, that’s not his plan.
Stevens is considered by most to be a great leader and motivator, a calming and encouraging presence on the sidelines, with teams that play hard. He’s always well-prepared, makes in-game adjustments, and he’s known to have an affinity for statistical analysis. The coach doesn’t have any NBA experience to speak of after 13 years at Butler – seven as an assistant – and a college career at DePauw, but he’s a people-person who helped put a mid-major program on the path to the newly-constructed Big East Conference. Time for a new challenge.
Eventually, Ainge could be proven to look like a genius. With nine first-round draft picks in the next five years, at least for the time-being, there are building blocks in place for Stevens. Heck, he may have even recruited some of those stars he’ll be targeting in the next few years.
Oh, one other thing: Stevens has two kids, one named Brady. That’s gotta score him a point or two in New England, right?
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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