Though the Celtics spent much of this season looking up in the standings at the Toronto Raptors, the two teams have gone in different directions as of late.
Going into the All-Star break, the Celtics will hold the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference standings, with the Raptors floating somewhere between the third and sixth spot.
That means Brad Stevens is your East All-Star Team head coach. (By rule, Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue can’t coach the team two years in a row.)
This can only be seen as good thing for the Boston Celtics organization.
Aside from the obvious – that the Celtics are playing good basketball over the first half of the season – it means Stevens will get to know the best players in the NBA over the weekend of festivities, culminating with the game on Sunday.
And even better, the players will get to know him.
Sure, they know of Stevens. But how many of the NBA’s elite really have a good idea who Stevens is? Not many.
Over three seasons with the Celtics, Stevens has earned the trust and respect of his players, and rarely if ever have you seen any of them show discontent with their leader.
Whether it’s in various events leading up to Sunday’s All-Star Game, workouts before it starts, a pregame speech, halftime adjustments, or in-game plays, Stevens could have a positive effect on a number of these superstar players, and that could pay huge dividends down the road.
Of course we aren’t naive to think that the coaches and players are going to treat the All-Star Game like a regular season game, but it’s still a nice peak into the type of person and coach Stevens is.
And he’ll have his hype man Isaiah Thomas with him to do all the actual “recruiting.”
We know that Thomas was a little birdie in Al Horford’s ear during last year’s All Star weekend. Perhaps he has a few other targets this time around he’s going to work on.
LeBron James isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Kyrie Irving or Giannis Antetokounmpo. DeMar DeRozan looks pretty set in Toronto, too. But there are superstars in that locker room that for one reason or another may have come up in trade talks already, or could be big free agent targets down the line.
Players like Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Paul Millsap, and Kyle Lowry all come to mind.
Butler, who the Celtics will see tonight in Chicago before the All-Star break, has been involved in trade rumors for some time now – and the Celtics could be a frontrunner. Could a weekend getting to know one another have Stevens really pushing Ainge to pull the trigger? Or could it have the opposite effect?
And what about the Western Conference? No, Stevens won’t be in the huddle or the locker room, but he’ll be taking part in the same events as guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward, and Anthony Davis.
And then there’s the fact that this is a nationally televised game that basketball fans from all over will watch, as will plenty of NBA players, too. The exposure is invaluable.
Look, there’s a chance that nothing comes of any of this, but the fact that this year’s All-Star weekend is more than just that for the Celtics is exciting – and well deserved for Stevens.