Brad Stevens has seen it all. Kind of.
The only thing missing from his NBA coaching resume is a trip to the NBA Finals and an NBA Championship. That, as we know here in Boston, is still a work in progress.
But when it comes to the type of talent that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has surrounded him with, Stevens has had to deal with every type of personality that’s stepped foot in the professional basketball world.
He’s dealt with a prima donna superstar, an All Star that understands his leadership role, an underdog that’s looking to earn his big pay day, an old friend from college, young prospects who want more playing time, top draft picks who are already expected to be great. You name it, Stevens has now coached it in the NBA.
And he’ll probably tell you — even through some tough times as recently as last season — that it was all worth it. It builds character, and most importantly, it serves as the best coaching experience you can get, if that organization is willing to keep you around.
All indications in Boston are that the Celtics seem more than willing to keep Stevens around as their head coach for many years to come. But there’s no question, sooner rather than later, he’ll have to scratch that championship itch.
Entering his seventh season as Celtics coach in 2019-20, Stevens is one of just four Celtics head coaches in franchise history to sit on Red Auerbach’s throne for more than five seasons. Auerbach was the first, of course, coaching the C’s for 16 seasons. The other two are Tommy Heinsohn, who spent eight-plus seasons as Celtics coach, and Doc Rivers, who coached the C’s for nine seasons.
Auerbach, Heinsohn, and Rivers all have something in common. They each won an NBA Championship in Boston. Stevens would undoubtedly love to join that group as a Celtics champion. The only question now is, how much longer will he have to try?
Stevens signed an extension with the Celtics in the summer of 2016, after his third season with the team. That extension was reportedly for three years, which was added onto the original six-year deal that he signed in 2013. So, if the reports and my math are correct, Stevens has three more years left on his contract.
This isn’t me running the guy out of town. I’m simply giving you the facts. And the fact of the matter is, it’s championship or bust here in Boston, especially with the Celtics.
Just when it seemed like the Stevens-led Celtics were on the verge of being serious contenders for the next handful of years with a dominant Kyrie Irving, his prima donna point guard lost his mind and fled for the Brooklyn Nets. Then, his veteran All-Star leader in Al Horford jumped ship to join the rival Philadelphia 76ers.
Sure, Kemba Walker signed a $141 million max contract to join the C’s, but with Irving and Horford, it was a group that was destined to be the team to end Golden State’s dynasty. So we thought.
Now, even with Gordon Hayward preparing for his second season post-ankle surgery, the fate of Stevens’ tenure in Boston will most likely come down to the progression of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who were the No. 3 overall picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
After extending Stevens’ contract in 2016 — along with Ainge’s contract — Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck sent a letter to season-ticket holders:
“With the commitment to success that Danny and Brad have displayed through their contract extensions, a talented core of players, and a multitude of draft picks over the next few years, we are well-positioned as we work tirelessly to raise our next banner together,” said Grousbeck in the letter.
The Celtics then drafted Brown, followed by drafting Tatum a year later. Both came as a result of the infamous “Brooklyn Picks” that the Celtics received in the trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The plan was to turn those picks into stars.
Well, they made the picks. And they have the coach. It’s time to turn it all into something special.
Easier said than done, of course. But in a way — even after losing Irving and Horford — this is how the C’s drew it up. In a league where everyone is currently obsessed with superstars in free agency, these Celtics need their top young draft picks to play to their expectations, and then some.
If not for the city and the franchise, most certainly for Stevens.
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” on PodcastOne, iTunes, and Spotify. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard. Subscribe to YouTube.com/DannyPicard.