Brad Stevens is 36 years old, but his optimism is based on success rather than simply youthful naivete. He’s been the coach of Butler University in Indianapolis for six years. In that time, he’s had enormous success, taking Butler to two national championship games (2010 and 2011). Stevens was a basketball-obsessed kid growing up in Zionsville, Indiana, the child of a father who played football for Indiana University before becoming an orthopedic surgeon and a mother who doth profess (too much or just enough?)
By all accounts, Stevens will be an analytics-friendly coach, scouring statistics as well as breaking down game film for opponents’ weaknesses while emphasizing defense and selflessness among his own players. He keeps a calm demeanor on the sidelines, even on the biggest NCAA stage. Some of his former Butler players have discussed his poise and belief in their abilities and the way that has impacted their team. Butler will certainly be sad to see Stevens go, though they must be appreciative of how significantly he made their small Indianapolis university a national name.
Stevens’ appearance is about as clean-cut as one might imagine. At first, his image is somewhat disconcerting because he appears clear-eyed, unblemished, and singularly focused. His short hair and clean-shaven looks give off a “Great morning, isn’t it?” vibe. Contrast that to either Van Gundy brother, Popovich, or Thibodeau, and the difference will be jarring. A closer coaching comparison, in both appearance and temperament, is Indiana’s Frank Vogel. Considering the fact that this process may take some time to bear fruit, the optimistic personality appears absolutely necessary.
Many will mention Stevens’ age (37 in October), but the league is embracing younger coaches and taking more risks than ever before, as the old method of recycling the same names in honor of experience over experimentation has finally lost. Some of this can be chalked up to the move towards advanced metrics, and away from old-school principles.
Can you guess the number of NBA coaches born in 1970 or later?
Here’s the list:
- Erik Spoelstra, Miami (1970)
- Mike Brown, Cleveland (1970)
- *Mike Budenholzer, Hawks (1970)
- Monty Williams, New Orleans (1971)
- *Michael Malone, Kings (1971)
- *Jason Kidd, Nets (1973)
- Frank Vogel, Indiana (1973)
- Jacque Vaughn, Orlando (1975)
- *Brad Stevens, Celtics (1976)
Six Years for Stevens
When the Celtics coaching vacancy opened up, many expected the Celtics to sign a coach to a short-term contract, with the assumption that rebuilding would entail an “M.L. Carr” style tank-job, rather than bring in a coach who will take his lumps in stride and build team morale and a new culture, despite the expected college-laundry-type pile of losses. Instead, Ainge and the front office have elected to sign Stevens for six years, essentially giving him five seasons after the 2014 draft and 2014 summer of free-agency to build the franchise back into a contender. The fact that Ainge has given Stevens this much latitude bodes well for fans. The last thing the Celtics really need is to rebuild without a rudder. Stevens has the opportunity to build a new atmosphere with the few veterans on the roster (Green, Rondo) to help set the tone for the 20-22 year-old players who will establish their professional careers within this new landscape. The biggest plus: they will all be establishing themselves together, players and coaches.
The Future, Rondo, and Future Rondo
Instead of addressing the ever-present rumors involving Rajon Rondo, why don’t we just assume, until otherwise, that Rondo will be given an honest chance to lead these new Celtics. Though it would seem to be in the club’s best interest (lottery-wise) to hold Rondo out for a good portion of the season while he rehabs, it would also seem to make sense for Rondo and Stevens to get to know each other in a more genuine way and establish a trust that lasts. Some have wondered whether Rondo would be on board if the Celtics are in complete rebuilding mode. I think the question is this: Is Rondo open to seeing where things lead over the next two years, regarding the roster and his comfort with Stevens, and does he show a new-found leadership and learn to compromise while maintaining his fiercely competitive edge? For all the labels Rondo’s personality has been given (stubborn, combative, defiant), he was given an NBA baptism-by-fire, surrounded by one of the most dominant and fiercest personalities within an NBA locker-room (Garnett), and was rarely given much freedom to lead himself.
Can he do so? Let’s find out before we say he can’t. My gut says, “Yes, he can.” And that Doc Rivers’ impressions of Rondo from 2007 would probably hinder any attempt to let Rondo prove he can lead in the future. We should be thankful for what Doc helped the Celtics accomplish and we should be equally thankful that Doc has moved on to the Clippers. Regardless of what happens next year, there will be no generational gap and no history between coach and players in Boston. Celtics fans should be smart enough to realize how important that might be when rebuilding.
Zarren’s the Name, Numbers the Game
One name Celtics fans should get to know is Mike Zarren. A former law clerk, Zarren has been Danny Ainge’s stat-whiz for several years and become a fixture at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. He is now listed as an “Assistant GM” and was nearly given the Philadelphia 76ers GM job last August. Zarren is widely considered one of the best at advanced statistical analysis. Ainge values the numbers game that is increasingly driving front office decisions and coaching strategy in the modern NBA. Call it the NBA’s version of “MoneyBall” if you like. Brad Stevens, an Economics major as an hoops-playing undergrad at tiny DePauw University (Not DePaul), will work closely with Zarren and others in order to discover how best to move the Celtics through this rebuilding stage of the next few years.