SOMETHING IN THE AIR
We hear it every time a team has any type of significant roster turnover. “They’ll need time to gel.” Or, “We’ll have to wait and see if they have chemistry.” Sure, these are valid points. But I’m here to tell you, these issues are minimal with this Celtics team. To find out why, you don’t need to look any further down the team roster than the head coach.
Brad Stevens became the head coach prior to the 2013-2014 season. Remarkably, he has exactly zero players left from that team going into the 2017-2018 campaign. Seems like a massive headache for a guy who came from college coaching ranks. A mid-major nonetheless, where he didn’t have to worry about the business side of basketball. Stevens has embraced the challenge, however. He has done a better job than anyone expected him to, improving the teams record every single year since he came to Boston despite some major changes. Let’s take a closer look at how he has handled this tremendous roster turnover in the past.
Stevens’ first year as head coach was a rough one. The team won 25 games, and it looked like the rebuild might take awhile. He did give us a taste of his genius though, when he dropped Jordan Crawford into the starting Point Guard role in the absence of Rondo. Crawford was widely considered a selfish player around the league, but Stevens made him into a team- first guy. He had his best all-around year, even earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Despite the poor record, Stevens showed he wasn’t afraid to do things his own way. He gave the last player on the roster the same opportunity to prove himself as the first guy. He didn’t want to overlook anyone, and made sure everyone got their fair shake. If you could play team ball and defend, you would play, period.
In his second season, Ainge made some significant midseason moves, and Stevens was finally getting a taste of the difficulties of coaching in the NBA. The Celtics were 9-14 when Rondo went to the Mavericks, and 13-23 when they sent Jeff Green to Memphis. Both were starters, and the players that earned those roles were new to the team. Marcus Smart was an unproven rookie, and Evan Turner signed as a free agent just before the season. Turner was widely considered a bust after being the number two overall pick and never meeting expectations. But Stevens saw something in him.
When the team traded for Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline, they were still trying to crawl out of the cellar. Nobody expected them to make the playoffs. With a completely different look than just months prior, they finished the year with one of the best post All-Star break records and made it to postseason. In a year that saw 22 different players receive minutes, Stevens created a playoff team. His peers were starting to see him as one of the best young coaches in the game.
The last two years have had considerably less roster turnover, but still saw a new name in the starting lineup each year with Amir Johnson and Al Horford. The team has continued to improve and exceed expectations no matter who they roll out. Isaiah Thomas turned into a star, but they still didn’t have much firepower behind him. Stevens’ teams to date have been known for being overachievers.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Let’s take a look at what Stevens was working with in his second season compared to what he will have next year. In ’14-’15, the fresh, new core was a rookie Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, and a young IT who had not yet established himself as a star. Compare that with the likes of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Jayson Tatum along with plenty of other moving parts, and there is no contest as to which group has more talent.
Taking all of this into account, it’s a given that this team will be good, and possibly great. Stevens has without question the most talented roster he has coached in the NBA. He no longer has to make lemons into lemonade; he already has the lemonade. If they simply achieve, progress will still have been made. Betting sites have them pegged for as high as 56.5 wins on the season, more than the 53 wins they reached last year.
The overachieving C’s may be gone, but the new look C’s might not need to overachieve to win a championship. They have the talent. The question we must answer now is, does this team have what it takes to win it all? Do they have championship DNA? Stevens will do his part and put players in the best position to succeed as he always has. But it will be up to them what they do with the opportunity.
* Courtesy of RealGM. Depth charts are from the last game played that season. This takes into account injuries, which shows another element Stevens has had to deal with. He was missing a starter due to injury in the playoffs all 3 years he has been there.