Fewer than 12 hours have passed since the Celtics completed a 25-57 regular season with a 118-102 loss to the Washington Wizards, and already coach Brad Stevens is hard at work. Stevens is shuttling between media interviews Thursday morning at the team’s practice facility in Waltham. He’s got a community event in the afternoon. A mostly lifeless 2013-14 season hasn’t even had the chance to turn cold, but already Stevens has met with each of his players, giving them packets of stats that let them know exactly where they stand.
“We’ve really had good meetings with our players,” Stevens said. “They can see where they are objectively, statistically vs. guys at their position in the league. Where we are as a team, objectively. And then subjectively where we think they can go and how those guys that have been in this room, that will be back in this room, can best impact a much more competitive team from the standpoint of playoffs and contention.”
Stevens’ office is utilitarian. On his desk is an Apple laptop, a picture of his family, and not much else. A backpack is slung over a chair; a high school phys ed teacher would feel very much at home here. Stevens will take a couple of weeks away before returning to put the final bow on this season.
“I’ve done that as the season’s gone on when we’ve had like two days or three days off in a row,” he said. “To really get a good glimpse of it all I think is important.”
After that, he’ll close the book and look ahead to the upcoming draft and to training camp. I sat down with Stevens Thursday to get thoughts on his first season in Boston and what he expects for his second.
Q: What were your expectations for this season? Did you meet them?
I’ve never coached a team where I’ve met my expectations. At the end of the day you’re always more critical of yourself, and you’re always more critical of what you can do to win every game. You go through the list of games that we had a chance to win and came up short. There are little things within those games that we can do better.I think those are things that you can do better in the situation, that you can do better in that moment, and that you can prepare to do better starting on Sept. 30. Every little detail like that as a coach, you try to play a perfect game. Not always possible, but certainly something as a coach you’re always going to go back and look at.
I never looked at this season as, and I know people have referred to it as a rebuilding season. When you’re in the middle of it you don’t look at it as a rebuilding season. You look at it as, I’m trying to win the next game. How do we give ourselves the best opportunity to do that? We didn’t do that a whole lot. As a result it’s disappointing to me.
Q: Do you tune into the talk about how teams, especially in the East, weren’t trying to win games this season in order to position themselves for the lottery?
You hear talk about that stuff, but as coaches, you get in team meetings with your players and talk about every little thing you can do to have success that night. You can hear it. People can talk about it. But it has no impact on how you go about your business.
The one thing that I thought we did that I was really proud of, the assistants and the players — I hope they felt that way about me — we went into every day with our best shot. We prepared for every single game to be the best we could be. We just weren’t as good as we’d like to be. We never looked at it as rebuilding. People have to talk about it. And I get that. Media have a job to do. As far as players and coaches, you’re just grinding to play as well as you can the next day.
Q: How involved will you be in the draft process?
I don’t know. I think that will be up to Danny and his group. I was told I was going to be pretty involved. I don’t know what that means. I’ll give my opinion. I won’t be hesitant to share my opinion.
(I interrupt here, saying to Stevens that he’s seen a lot of these guys play. “And know a lot about them,” he adds)
Q: Have you gotten in Danny’s ear at all yet about a player or two?
We haven’t talked about it a ton yet. Most of our discussions have been about our team and the guys on our team. And that’s been really my focus. Obviously as the NCAA Tournament’s going on you watch some games here or there, but there’s not a lot of time to watch games when you’re doing this all year.
They’re really well prepared. They’ve scouted a lot of games. I know a lot of the kids that are coming out. And we have two picks in the top 18? Is that right? We have two picks in the top 18, so they’ve gotta be good. They’ve gotta be good for us as far as fitting in with our team for us to continue to progress.
Q: What was the biggest adjustment for you this season, and how did you like being in Boston?
Life in the NBA is interesting because you didn’t know what the schedule would be like, how grueling it would be. The 82 games is legitimate and it’s tough, and it’s tough physically on the players. It’s tough to bounce back, win or lose, game after game after game. And you see that across the NBA. You see teams that have really good teams that lay an egg. You try to minimize those as much as possible, but the reality is it takes a physical toll on you.
We’ve loved Boston. And probably why is that first of all, you come here, and last night captures it too. The one-year anniversary of the marathon bombings and just the resiliency of this city, the support of this city. The pride of this city. And the impact and role that sports play in the city, as kind of something that everybody can rally around.
We’re sports fans. I’m watching the Red Sox every night now, and I never watched the Red Sox before I moved here last year. Now every night you finish up your night watching the Red Sox. We’ve been blown away by the support of the people here.
Q: Did you know about Boston sports fans’ loyalty coming in?
You hear all the great things about it. You also know that people love to win. At the end of the day the one thing that I’ve been amazed at is our support through this tough season. And I speak specifically to the Chicago game late in that game, and then the Charlotte game late in that game. The place was absolutely rocking. We’ve been to the other 29 arenas, and it’s just not like that everywhere. In fact it’s like that very few places, and the few places you’d say it’s like that, they’re really good right now. It’s a special place.
Q: Danny said last week that he thinks next season could be Rondo’s best. Do you see that too?
I can see that. There’s two things really going for him there. He only played 25 or 30 games from this year, so he doesn’t have a whole lot of wear from this year other than the fact that he was coming off of the injury. So he is going to be pretty fresh going into this summer of work.
The second thing is that he’s going to have a chip on his shoulder. Because things didn’t go our way as a team, and I think he’s pretty critical of himself. Those things combined, when you’re talking about a very good player, that’s a scary combination. That’s something that could be very beneficial for them.
Q: What are your thoughts on players coming out of college after ? You’ve worked with guys out of high school at Butler, but as a coach, is it easier getting guys like Jared [Sullinger] who is NBA ready?
I think the more polished a guy is the better. Obviously when you’re coaching that’s what you want. At the same time the people making the decisions have to make decisions based on the short term and long term potential success of the individual.
I would be a fan of, if the NBA decided to look at it, of making guys either eligible to come out right away or having to stay two years or three years, like baseball.
Q: Despite all the losing this season you guys never had any internal turmoil spill into the media. You never had any Bobby Valentine moments. How did you manage that?
That was a big deal to me. That was really important. Anytime you have a chance where you have a small margin for error, and you lose games. We lose some games that one or two bounces or one or two plays, or an execution gone wrong, or a defensive mistake, it’s so easy to point fingers. Especially when things aren’t going well, in a league full of players that are used to having success. Almost all of them had success in college. A lot of them had success at this level. I was pretty pleased with that. We talked all the time about team, about being accountable, about supporting one another inside and outside the locker room. Those are important things. We did that as well as we did anything this year.
Q: Did it ever come close?
Sure it get’s close. People get heated, or they get heated with me, or they get heated with an assistant or each other. But at the end of the day, those moments were very very few and far between. Every team has that. It’s not about those moments, its about are they dissolved quickly? And do molehills become mountains? The bottom line is we never had mountains. That’s why we’d lose a game and we went into the next one and you gave yourself a chance to win in that string of quality playoff opponents we were playing back to back to back to back. The spirit wasn’t broken.It never splintered because we stayed together.
Q: What happened earlier this season with Keith [Bogans], and how do you think you handled that?
That was a mutual situation where he wasn’t playing a whole lot, so he decided and we decided that if he wanted to go back home and spend time there then that was OK with us. The bottom line is, and I’m further removed from that time period too, is that I like Keith. Keith is a good player who’s found a way to be very successful in this league because he gets team basketball and he understands the role he’s got to play. Sometimes you don’t have the exact role that you envision when you start a season. I don’t see a reason why Keith won’t continue to have success and be a player in this league.
Q: What would you do differently next season?
A lot. I have to be more demanding of the details of everything, offensively and defensively. I was getting a pulse on the differences in the game, all the new personnel, and those other things as much as anything else when we first started training camp. Now that’s not a transition anymore. We’ve gotten to be a team that is much better focused on the details in my opinion. Anytime you have a lower margin for error you better be good in the details. And it’s accentuated if you’re not.