During his career as with the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge had a front row seat to the deterioration of Boston’s original Big Three. As the Celtics general manager he was determined not to let history repeat itself.
Last week, Ainge gutted the heart of Celtic nation by trading life-long Celtic, Paul Pierce and the team’s emotional leader, Kevin Garnett. Trading Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn Nets was gut-wrenching, but a strong case could be made that it needed to be done, especially with the departure of Doc Rivers.
Ainge began his coaching search in earnest with former Memphis Grizzles coach, Lionel Hollins appearing to be the leader in the clubhouse. This afternoon Ainge stunned sports world, hiring former Butler coach, Brad Stevens.
Stevens has notoriously rejected every offer that’s come his way since leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA Championship Game appearances. Stevens and Mark Few of Gonzaga have been examples of coaches who turned their mid-majors into majors. Stevens has always been willing to listen to offers, but he’s never taken the bait. I’d assumed that he was waiting for the perfect job. Coach K has to retire at some point, right?
If we can climb inside of Danny Ainge’s head for a moment, we’d have to believe that he wanted to hire a coach who could grow with his team.
As Ainge’s plan is unveiled, it’s clear that he doesn’t want the Celtics to be competitive next year. He wants a shot at Andrew Wiggins and the other members of the best draft class in ten years. It’s a good plan in theory, but in practice it’s filled with more holes than their defense will have next year.
The NBA is not college, Stevens is an unproven commodity, and we don’t know if he could manage a major college basketball program much less an NBA team. Running (notice I didn’t say coaching) an NBA team is a more high level management position than coaching job. NBA coaches are part coach, babysitter, psychologist, and father figure. Stevens didn’t deal with elite recruits at Butler. During his tenure, Stevens coached two future NBA players.
More than any other professional sports league, NBA coaches must earn the respect of their players — in this case respect, is code for trust. What veteran is going to trust Brad Stevens? What would they base their trust on? Most of the players on his new team wouldn’t have answered a call from Stevens on the recruiting trail. The type of player Stevens deals with won’t be his only adjustment. Reflecting on his coaching stint with the New Jersey Nets, John Calipari realized he wasn’t ready. Calipari candidly admitted he didn’t know how to run an NBA practice, didn’t know how hard to push his players or what the norms were for NBA teams.
At 36, there are still players in the league that are older than Stevens, three notables are also 36: Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Andre Miller. The Stevens hiring makes the Nets’ hiring of Jason Kidd seem restrained by comparison.
The hiring of Stevens will no doubt signal the end of Rajon Rondo’s time in beantown as well. Can you imagine a scenario where the mercurial Rondo receives Stevens with open arms? Doc Rivers was a former NBA All-Star and one of the most respected coaches in the league, yet he and Rondo had a volatile relationship. If Ainge is planning on trading Rondo he just showed his hand to the world, decreasing the All-Star’s trade value. If he’s planning on keeping him, this is a bigger disaster than I first believed.
Ainge’s master plan relies heavily on hitting the jackpot in next year’s draft and luring potential free agents (or trade partners) to Boston. With so many moving parts, it’s hard to know if Ainge’s gambles will pay off. One thing is certain, though: these won’t be your father’s Celtics.