Before the 2013-14 NBA season had even begun, Boston Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge had made a number of shocking moves. The first, of course was the trade that sent veteran stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. The second was the long-term hire of Butler coach Brad Stevens directly from the NCAA to the NBA head coaching ranks. Ainge made Stevens the youngest head coach in the league and it was far from a short-term trial, signing the 37-year-old to a big-money six-year contract. Stevens was brought on board not only to oversee and develop the young roster the Celtics would field this season, but to take the team into the next era of championship contention, no matter how long it takes.
The 2013-14 season must have been a tough one for Brad Stevens as a rookie head coach in the NBA. With a final record of just 25-57, Stevens lost more games in his first year in the NBA than he did through six years as Butler coach, where he had lost a total of just 49 games. Despite the final record, their standing obviously had more to do with the lack of talent on the roster than the coach himself and there were a number of positive signs as the Celtics look towards a bright future.
Like any rookie, there was good and bad throughout Stevens’ first season in the NBA, but there seems to have been far more positives to report despite the low tally in the win column. Stevens was renowned for his calm demeanor throughout his collegiate career and even though he had to sit through loss after loss this season he did not let his emotions get the better of him. Whether it was on the sidelines, at practice where he would often participate on floor, or in the media where he would answer question after question until the media simply ran out of things to ask, Stevens conducted himself as a consummate professional.
He managed to turn Jordan Crawford, a player who had previously been renowned as a shot-chucking combo guard into a legitimate starting point guard. Stevens gave Crawford the chance to show his talent early in the season and worked with him extensively as the Celtics seemed to overachieve early on. From an outside perspective, it seems that Stevens’ work with Crawford was in fact so effective that Ainge traded the young guard away as he was routinely keeping the Celtics in games with his scoring and play making ability at the point.
Despite the poor overall record, watching the Celtics on a nightly basis hardly felt like watching a squad that tied for the fourth-worst overall record. While teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers would routinely suffer through blowout loss after blowout loss, the Celtics seemed to always fight until the final minutes where the lack of experience and go-to scorers would shine through. The Celtics suffered 29 losses that were by single digits and Stevens had the team competing right until the final buzzer on a nightly basis.
Stevens is renowned for his meticulousness and will no doubt be putting extensive work in this off-season in order to improve as a coach next season. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today detailed Stevens’ offseason breakdown and had some quotes from Ainge on his young head coach:
Stevens makes a list after every season, but this is a different kind of season. He’s not used to losing like this. He will evaluate everything he did this season, from player rotations to practice schedules to offensive and defensive strategies and so many aspects of coaching in between.
Stevens is detailed, dedicated and determined – all factors that give him the chance to be successful. He looks for ways to make players better individually and as a group, and he constantly probes for ways to exploit opponents. He is not relying on his skills as a college coach to prosper in the NBA.
Ainge is impressed by the way he has handled the locker room.
“I like his way of communicating,” Ainge said. “I know if I were a player, I would’ve appreciated it. He’s very open and honest. He’s matter of fact, and he holds guys accountable. Guys want to be coached, and they want to be told. He puts in the time to communicate to players collectively and individually.”
After signing Stevens to a six-year contract, obviously Ainge has faith that he is not only the man to take the Celtics through this rebuilding phase, but to lead them when they return to the top of the Eastern Conference. Ainge clearly has a vision for this team and by locking himself up to such a long-term deal obviously Stevens believes not only that he is the man for the job, but that Ainge can complete his part of the deal and put a contending team back on the floor. It is difficult to truly assess a coach after one season, especially considering the talent Stevens had at his disposal but for now, all signs point towards a long, successful relationship between Stevens and the Celtics and it will be interesting to see how far the coach will come in his second season in 2014-15.