President of basketball operations Danny Ainge welcomed Stevens, who at 36 now becomes the youngest coach in the NBA, two days after formally announcing that he had hired Stevens away from Butler University.
Wearing a green tie and white shirt under a dark suit, Stevens said he was “in awe” of sitting under the Celtics banners that he is now charged with adding to.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity,” he said.
Ainge said Stevens was his “first choice” to be Celtics coach and said he’s confident Stevens can smoothly make the shift from the NCAA to the NBA.
“Yes there will be transition from college game to the NBA, but we will give him the support he needs,” Ainge said.
Stevens will lead the Celtics into a new era that will likely look much different from the final years of his predecessor, Doc Rivers.
The Celtics, having traded icons Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are entering a rebuilding phase that will test Stevens’ ability as a basketball teacher.
Stevens arrives with a impressive record built over six seasons as head coach at Butler, where he led a small-conference school to consecutive Final Four berths in 2010 and 2011. His stature grew when his Butler teams lost two straight NCAA title games to powerhouse schools Duke and Connecticut in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
And Stevens, who cultivated Butler from a middle-of-the-pack program to the forefront of the NCAA (and oversaw its leap up as a member of the Atlantic-10 conference last year), may face a similar challenge with the Celtics.
The team is armed with nine first-round picks over the next five years after the recent departures of Rivers, Pierce, and Garnett. Stevens, who has a six-year contract worth about $22 million, will be charged with developing that influx of talent—as well as with getting incumbent building blocks like All-Star guard Rajon Rondo to buy into his program.
One of his first challenges may be developing rapport with Rondo, who as an established star may be skeptical about buying into the vision of a 36-year-old coach of a rebuilding team.
But a source close to Rondo who has talked with the guard since the Stevens hiring told the Globe that Rondo is looking at the move with a “completely open mind.”
Another challenge for Stevens will be overcoming the negative performance history that NCAA coaches have had converting to the NBA. The list of prominent coaches who’ve tried to make the transition is long (John Calipari, Tim Floyd, Mike Montgomery, Rick Pitino), and the Celtics experienced some of that failure first-hand during Pitino’s four-year run in Boston. Pitino went 102-146 in parts of four seasons with the Celtics from 1997-2001.
But the Celtics, since they are entering a rebuilding phase, have the luxury of being able to take a chance on a coach like Stevens if they believe his style will translate to the NBA.
An NBA source said Stevens’ personality may make him a good candidate to succeed where previous NCAA coaches failed in the pros.
“He’s the anti-[John] Calipari, the anti-[Rick] Pitino. Those guys, they think it’s about them,” the source said. “He’s going to learn that it’s about the players and that’s going to help.
“Everything is a risk, but this is a good risk.”
Gary Washburn and Baxter Holmes from the Globe staff contributed.