“The Boston Celtics? Like, wow!”
That was Brad Stevens' reaction to Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge calling the Butler men's basketball coach on June 25 and talking with him about being the storied franchise's next coach.
From that regard, Stevens wasn't any different than any other person in America over the past 43 hours. No one saw this hire coming.
But make no mistake, Stevens isn't like anyone else, and that distinction is what attracted Ainge to the 36-year-old.
“He's a very smart guy,” Ainge said.
Yes he is. In fact, Stevens is smarter than most and that is why he'll be an immense success in guiding the Celtics.
“I don't know if I'm a normal coach from the sense of how everybody operates,” Stevens said. “I don't think that there is a right or wrong way to do it.”
Yes there is. And a dozen former NCAA coaches have tried to make the transition to the NBA and ultimately ended up with losing records. Stevens won't.
Stevens is not repeating the mistakes made by several of the biggest names in coaching (Rick Pitino, John Calipari, just to name a few that got fired from NBA jobs). He's way too intelligent not to learn from history.
The widely-held belief that the Boston job is a bad one because some veterans were traded away last month is incorrect. Stevens just took a great job, not a bad one, which sealed the professional fate of so many college coaches before him.
While it is true that the Celtics won't win more than they lose this year because of their youthful roster and the strength of teams in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are an “awesome opportunity” according to Stevens in part because he has the full support of the organization in leading this team.
“As an organization, a six-year contract speaks loud,” Ainge said. “I don't think that there is any other coach in the NBA with a six-year commitment from their team.”
It's not just the support and the massive contract that makes this a great opportunity (Stevens reportedly has signed a six-year, $22 million deal), but a shared philosophy among all of the parties involved in how to rebuild this franchise to its expected position within the league.
“Everybody in here has the goal of winning championships,” Stevens said. “That is the goal. That has always been the goal and that always will be the goal. But it takes a process to get there. And there is an understanding (among Boston leadership) that there is a process.”
On the court, Ainge has placed this club in a positive position. The Celtics have dumped large contracts and have a great deal of financial freedom to pursue free agents, as well as holding nine first-round draft selections in the next five years. But that alone couldn't guarantee success. Where Stevens truly separates himself from the pack of former failed coaches is his emphasis on relationships.
Calipari reportedly was at odds with high school senior Kobe Bryant in the days leading up to the 1997 NBA Draft and selected Villanova guard Kerry Kittles instead.
Pitino drafted one of the most respected and talented players (Chauncey Billups) in the NBA over the past 15 years and traded him within a few months. Stevens isn't that ignorant, brash, or rash.
“One of the things that I am so thrilled about is the opportunity to work in a place,” Stevens said, “that has such high standards and places such a value on culture.
“I'm a process-driven guy, a day-by-day guy, and I believe in relationships.”
He was questioned just how he could possibly handle the egos of an NBA locker room, in particular when it came to surly Boston guard Rajon Rondo. It took Stevens 60 seconds to resolve that issue.
“Anytime that you enter into a new organization, the most important thing is to meet the people, spend time with the people, figure out what makes everybody go, and try to work collectively to try and achieve whatever you can,” Stevens said. “There is no bigger fan of Rajon Rondo than me. I have so much respect for how he sees the basketball court, how he plays the game, his instinctual feel, and his intelligence. I'm looking forward to sitting down and learning from him.”
Even Rondo isn't a troubled enough character not to work well with that.
Ainge made the correct – and stunning – decision with this hire. The Celtics Nation can be assured that success, though more than likely a couple of years away, is in its future.
Why do I feel confident in that? Because the smartest man in the room believes that to be the case.
“It was the right decision,” Stevens said of accepting this challenge. “And it was obvious that it was the right decision.”