The most important rookie on the Celtics this year isn’t lottery pick Kelly Olynyk. It’s not the undrafted point guard, Phil Pressey, either.
Nope. That title goes to Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who makes his regular season NBA debut tonight in Toronto (7 p.m., CSN).
Danny Ainge signed Stevens to a lengthy six-year deal this summer, after Doc Rivers was “traded” to the Clippers. The former Butler head coach has a training camp and a handful of preseason games under his belt, but as you can imagine, it’s quite a transition.
Take into account that the Butler Bulldogs played a grand total of 38 games last season, with just two sets of three games played on consecutive days (both tournaments with no travel). Stevens will coach 44 more games in the NBA this season, including a total of 20 back-to-back games.
Or how about dealing with million-dollar athletes, clashing personalities, and a number of other issues off the court? Not to mention the numerous rule changes, including a 24-second clock, down from 35 in the NCAA game.
Stevens, who last week turned 37, is the youngest head coach in the NBA, and is actually younger than 10 active NBA players, including former Celtics Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
But despite all those challenges, Stevens goes into tonight’s game with a sense of belonging where he is.
“Obviously we’re all excited to get the regular season started,” Stevens said. “I think that based on the way I’ve kind of gone about thinking about it, and trying to get a pulse on how I feel, when I coached my first game as a head coach [in the preseason], that was a little bit different. Being a head coach and having a chance to do eight dress rehearsals has probably eased the nerves.”
Of course, Stevens isn’t in this alone. He was allowed to hire his own staff, and seems to have all the confidence in the world in it. Assistant coach Ron Adams has been an assistant coach in the NBA for over a decade – most recently with the Bulls - and his experience will prove invaluable to Stevens. Along with the assistants and scouts, Stevens feels prepared for the challenges and rigorous scheduling that the NBA presents.
“I think that’s why you get a great staff behind you,” Stevens said. “That’s the most important thing, having guys that are reliable in getting their work done and do good work. And it’s just making it as easy as possible for me to transition quickly to the next game, and then us making it as easy as possible for the players to transition to the next game.”
We’re about to find out just how easy transitioning is.