When will Brad Stevens catch a break? After guiding Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals the past two seasons with a depleted squad each year, some analysts are refusing to acknowledge Stevens as a bona fide coach in NBA ranks.
To understand the truth to this matter, we need to break down the accomplishments that Stevens has achieved during his tenure in Boston.
The first year in Boston
Brad Stevens got the opportunity to coach for Boston after a very successful tenure in the college ranks as the head coach of Butler. After a national championship run that fell short in the 2012-13 season, Stevens was interviewed by multiple NBA teams.
Stevens landed the Boston job on July 3rd, 2013. Does anyone remember any of the players from that 2013-14 squad? Going, going and gone. I didn’t think so.
Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley played the guards, but Rondo was hurt the majority of the season so Jordan Crawford moved into the starting role. I repeat- Jordan Crawford. Jared Sullinger played center, only after Kris Humphries got hurt. Brandon Bass and Jeff Green held down the forward positions.
The team crawled to a miserable 25-57 record and finished fourth in the Atlantic Division.
The 2014-15 Season
The Celtics added Tyler Zeller to play the five, and Evan Turner replaced Jeff Green after an injury. Late in the season, Boston traded for Isaiah Thomas, with intension to have him come off the bench. The young Celtics started to emerge, with Thomas averaging 19 points per game off the bench. Avery Bradley becoming a reliable 2nd option, then Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk all earning more playing time throughout the season.
Boston went 40-42, sneaking into the playoffs just to be swept under the rug by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Pieces come together
Stevens liked the youth on his team. Boston allowed the older players to leave and started adding multitudes of young talent. Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey and Jaylen Brown arrived to the squad. Isaiah Thomas became an offensive star and suddenly had a ton of offensive talent around him. Crowder, Bradley and the addition of Al Horford at center proved to be extremely useful. Boston made their first Eastern Conference Finals run in the 2016-17 season, without Thomas who had fallen victim to an ankle injury halfway through the playoff run.
The team leaned on Smart and Rozier to shoulder the load, which they did well. However, Boston was unable to contain both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, and fell again in game six, again, to the Cavaliers.
The 2017-18 Season
This season, the Celtics were truly primed to make a big run. They added Duke star Jayson Tatum to their lineup. Kyrie Irving was acquired from Cleveland. Boston signed Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz in free agency. This squad was so loaded, it didn’t seem like they could fall short of a title run.
Alas, disaster struck. Hayward went down with a broken ankle five minutes into the first game while Kyrie missed the entire month of April and the entirety of the playoffs. Instead, the team leaned on Tatum and Jaylen Brown to carry the load, which they did admirably. They went toe to toe in a seven game matchup with the Cavaliers before falling, 87-79.
What does Brad Steven have to do?
What does Brad Stevens really have to prove? What accomplishment does he have to achieve before people outside of Boston recognize how gifted this man truly is?
Let’s explore some of his former players to see how they are faring with other teams. Jae Crowder? All but forgotten in Utah. Avery Bradley? Traded to the Detroit Pistons and then to the Los Angeles Clippers later in the season. Isaiah Thomas? Now on his fourth team in the last two years (Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles Lakers and now the Denver Nuggets.
Stevens takes talent and finds the best way to play them and then he utilizes each player to his strength. What other coaches have done well in doing that? San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is about the only one that comes to mind.
Brad Stevens took a team missing two NBA All-Stars to the Conference Finals and then leaned on a rookie forward to lead his team into game seven. That accomplishment alone is incredible! All we hear about is how Brad Stevens doesn’t yet belong on the list of elite NBA coaches.
I beg to differ. He definitely does.