Celtics

First Take’s Stephen A. Smith rips Celtics for promoting Brad Stevens

Smith said Stevens's promotion spurns deserving Black candidates.

Brad Stevens Celtics
Brad Stevens. Corey Spikin/AP
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The Boston Celtics somehow found a way to make everyone stop talking about how mad they were about Celtics players hugging Kyrie Irving after the Nets ended their season Tuesday night.

Longtime president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is stepping down, and head coach Brad Stevens is stepping up to take his place – a fitting way to end one of the most bizarre Celtics seasons in recent memory.

“I’m excited for Brad…he was born for this,” Ainge said of Stevens, calling the transition a “great step forward” for the Celtics franchise.

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Of course, not everyone is so keen on Stevens getting the opportunity given his lack of experience and Boston’s shaky performance this year.

ESPN’s First Take host Stephen A. Smith even walked off set in displeasure after hearing the news, but not before blasting the hire as a slight to possible Black candidates looking to break into the executive ranks.

“You’re a question mark as a coach in some people’s eyes, including in Boston, but somehow, someway, you’re moving upstairs,” Smith said. “And the paucity of opportunity for African Americans continue to dwindle, and dwindle, and dwindle. We’re talking about the coaches. We didn’t even get into Black folks in executive positions!”

Smith also railed against the league’s prominent players, such as LeBron James and Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, for failing to speak up for diversity in coaching and executive positions more pointedly.

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“You got players — NBA players are some of the most powerful people in this world. When have they spoken up for Black coaches? When? When have they spoken up for Black executives?” he said.

Former Celtic and ESPN Kendrick Perkins, who joined the program to discuss the move, said Smith “has a valid point.”

Smith noted the NBA has just one Black president of a basketball franchise — Toronto’s Masai Ujiri. Additionally, there are eight Black general managers and five Black head coaches in a 30-team league with roughly 80 percent Black players.

First Take co-host Max Kellerman, however, cited former Celtics coach Doc Rivers — who is Black — as an example of someone given multiple opportunities despite some struggles since his championship season with Boston in 2008.

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“But we know he’s a great coach. Whatever the circumstances that make him look bad, we know he’s a great coach,” he said of Rivers.

He then explained that Stevens’s struggles in his final year as coach with the Celtics doesn’t mean he’ll be a poor executive, nor does it mean he’s undeserving of the promotion.

“Brad Stevens is known as an excellent basketball mind…players can drown out the same voice after a while. He’s been there for a minute. Maybe it’s a personality issue with certain players, that can happen as a coach. But they still value his basketball acumen. And he was groomed by Danny Ainge, who was a successful GM. So they can have some continuity with him in the front office.”

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It’s worth noting the Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last five seasons under Stevens — twice coming within one game of the NBA Finals — and missed the playoffs just once during his tenure.

Now, the focus turns toward who could be the Stevens’s replacement, with the likes of Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, and Lloyd Pierce garnering early attention as interview candidates.

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