Why Celtics Should Thank Brad Stevens For Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward

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BOSTON — Let’s be honest: The NBA is a player’s league. Every team needs a good head coach, but it’s superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant who attract the real talent.

The 2017-18 Celtics, however, present a pretty compelling counter-argument.

The C’s on Friday held a press conference at TD Garden for their two shiny new offseason acquisitions, guard Kyrie Irving and forward Gordon Hayward. The All-Stars came to Boston under different circumstances — the former via trade and the latter in free agency — but both were clear about one thing: They really wanted to play for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

Hayward’s history with Stevens is well-documented. Stevens recruited Hayward out of high school and coached him for four years at Butler, developing a strong bond with the swingman that many believe was the deciding factor in Hayward choosing Boston in free agency.

“In college, your college coach is somewhat more like a father figure,” Hayward said Friday, with Stevens seated just three chairs away at the podium. “You?re younger, you lean on them a lot. And now I?m a father and I have two little girls of my own.

“I always say that Coach Stevens was the first person — I always had a dream to play in the NBA, but he was the first person to tell me that I could get there some day.”

That’s a pretty unique situation, as coaches rarely have that much pre-NBA history with any player, much less a free agent target. But Stevens’ appeal goes beyond personal ties. Just ask Irving, who reportedly was “ecstatic” about playing for Stevens and visibly expressed that excitement Friday.

“Now that I get to experience it first-hand, it’s just how intelligent I’ve heard that he is as a coach,” Irving said. “To understand how maniacal he is in terms of the finite details of maximizing what you can out of the players on the floor; looking at it scheme-wise, it’s a pretty equatable offense in terms of what everyone’s skill set is on the floor.”

Irving admitted to being impressed with the Celtics’ game plan and execution under Stevens during last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.

“They were running their plays and were always two, three steps — or, to give him credit, four steps ahead,” Irving said. “… So, the appreciation I have for his knowledge for the game — I just can’t wait to steal some stuff and learn and grow with a guy like that.”

Irving had plenty other good reasons to come to Boston — the chance to escape LeBron James’ shadow, the opportunity to play on a legitimate title contender in front of a passionate fan base — but Stevens definitely helped sway the needle, just as he did earlier this summer with Hayward. And with reports that the Celtics could target other star players in the coming years, it’s hard not wonder if Stevens can be a legitimate selling point for free agents or trade targets going forward.

“You’ve got a smart individual that you can learn the game from and be taught, at the same time while growing,” Irving added. “I mean, who doesn’t want to be a part of that?”

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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