With just about two weeks before the start of the season – and a new era for the franchise – the Celtics seem pleased with the progress the team is making under Stevens’ early stewardship.
If general manager Danny Ainge’s plan for the franchise is for the rookie coach to grow along with his young team, it seems to be working at this juncture despite Tuesday night’s 82-80 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
It’s going to take a lot of patience this season with the Celtics, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett now members of the Nets and Rajon Rondo (who was unavailable to the media Tuesday) still injured. “Certainly in coaching, you always think about the things you could have done,” Stevens told reporters after the game. ”(But) there’s going to be some great teaching moments from the film.”
With Stevens, discussing the benefits of a tightly contested preseason loss on Oct. 15, you actually take those words seriously. Unlike a veteran coach who may be weary of losing, Stevens actually seemed genuinely enthusiastic about taking this loss, building on what went right and correcting what went awry.
“He’s improving every day, making progress,” said veteran big Brandon Bass, who’s played for Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy, Byron Scott, Avery Johnson and Rick Carlisle.
At 28, Bass is an elder statesman on these Celtics. Only Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Keith Bogans are older on this team, which could see his playing time go to younger players as the season progresses.
Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Vitor Faverani and Jeff Green are the younger big men whom Stevens could insert in the lineup as the Celtics look to maximize their rebuilding pieces. Divvying out minutes to these forwards and centers could be one of the most difficult assignments Stevens will have.
In the backcourt, Avery Bradley will start at the point until Rondo’s return, with the starting two-guard spot seemingly up for grabs. Jordan Crawford started Tuesday, but it was Courtney Lee, entering his sixth season, who made the big shots.
Lee buried back-to-back fourth-quarter threes to tie the game at 80 and was front and center in Stevens’ late-game lineup. After the game, Stevens said that there would be no set five-man group in crunch time, and that fourth-quarter playing time would be doled out “based on how guys complement one another.”
Another member of this young backcourt, 24-year-old MarShon Brooks, is also happy with his new coach after a rocky season with the Nets. Brooks was unhappy and frustrated with his playing time under Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo and reportedly asked for a trade, ending up in Boston. The 6-5 Providence alum called Stevens “a good coach who gets the message and comes across as very professional.”
When asked if Stevens had adjusted from the college game to the pros, Brooks commented on the team’s short but intense practices and said that he doesn’t see a difference in that regard between Stevens and other pro coaches. “He’s done a good job adjusting,” Brooks said.
With ice packs on both knees and his feet soaking in an ice bath after a fairly sloppy preseason game, Lee talked about how positive Stevens always is and how he’s “changing a lot of stuff” from the Rivers regime. He also said that Stevens was a good communicator who has “good interactions” with the team.
His communicative skills helped Butler reach two national championship games despite playing in a mid-major conference without the type of top-level recruits that larger-name schools were able to attract. His attention to detail, preparation and work ethic got him to this point as the youngest coach in the league, and it seems like Stevens is relying on those basic principles with the Celtics.
In discussing Tuesday’s game, Stevens said “when you have to come back and play possession by possession, score, stop, score and you’re right back in the game again. It’s good you know you can do that.”
It’s also good for Boston fans to know that the Celtics have a coach who will remain positive and has the full support (so far) of both veteran and young players alike.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You should follow him on Twitter.