Of all of Danny Ainge’s bold moves as his reign as longtime Boston Celtics GM: triggering the trades that landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen as the NBA first successfully manufactured superteam, stockpiling draft picks that have turned into promising young all-stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, trading for Isaiah Thomas and subsequently trading him after 3 wildly successful seasons for Kyrie Irving, and signing all-star free agents Al Horford and Gordon Harward – if these moves are the gold trappings of Ainge’s legacy, the Brad Stevens coaching hire is the marble that his statue will be built with.
Flashback to Opening Night when the Celtics hosted LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in what was supposed to be about LeBron and Kyrie’s reunion after a dumpster-fire off-season that saw Irving traded out to Boston in exchange for Thomas. However, five minutes into the game, the story quickly became about Gordon Hayward, the Celtics star free-agent acquisition, and his freak ankle injury after colliding with LeBron and Jae Crowder while in mid-air. The Celtics not only lost that game but Hayward to a season-ending ankle break and, what seemed like, any real shot at getting passed LeBron and the Cavs. The Celtics subsequently continued to reel into the next game, getting dropped by Giannis and the Bucks 108-100.
However, since their 0-2 start, the Celtics have now won 12 straight and currently have the best record in the NBA at 12-2. The Celtics currently own the best defensive rating in basketball (95.4) and the lowest PPG allowed (94) and tied for 2nd in point differential (+8.2). Hell, last Saturday against a decent Hornets team, the Celtics STILL found a way to win after Irving went down just 2 minutes into the game.
Plain and simple, the Celtics were not supposed to be this good without Hayward, but they somehow are. Last year, the Celtics were not supposed to be that good with a late round PG running the show but somehow they were.
You’ll sense the pattern here in a minute.
Now in his 5th season as the Celtics head coach, Stevens has been to the playoffs three straight years having only missed his first season and drastically improved the team’s win percentage incrementally every year. For those who remember Stevens from before he arrived in Boston, they’ll recall a skinny, young man-child who coached the hell out of a group of not-ready-for-primetime college rejects to two straight NCAA Championship game appearances.
The tiny Butler Bulldogs were not supposed to be that good at ANY point in their program’s history but somehow they were. Don’t believe me? This was how close Brad Stevens was from coaching this no-name school, who had absolutely no business being THAT competitive, into actually winning a championship:
You may not have recognized that goofy looking kid who took that last shot.
It was Gordon Hayward. Yes, THAT Gordon Hayward.
Stevens is simply a winner who has shaped every program he has coached into a winning program; the Celtics’ constant over-achieving is proof of that. Just recently, Popovich, the golden standard of NBA coaching, declared that Stevens is destined to be “one of the great ones” already this early in his career.
Clearly, Stevens has some work to do to even be mentioned in the same stratosphere as Pop, but there’s no doubt that he’s laid out the groundwork to start dominating the NBA for the rest of his career.