Considering the rapid rise of the Boston Celtics in the post-Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett era, you may find it hard to believe it’s been five years since the franchise hired Brad Stevens to be its 17th head coach on July 3, 2013.
And given Stevens’ remarkable success in his five years on the C’s bench, it’s even harder to fathom that hiring him was a huge gamble at the time.
Esteemed basketball writer Howard Beck, then of the New York Times, called the hire “a stunner.”
Remember, Stevens never had coached even a major college basketball program. He took mid-major Butler to back-to-back NCAA championship games but lost both. Stevens also was just 36 years when Boston hired him, making him the youngest head coach in the NBA until Tyronn Lue took over the Cleveland Cavaliers job in 2016.
The history of college coaches coming into the NBA and having success wasn’t very good before Stevens. Some of the best college coaches of all-time, including John Calipari and Rick Pitino, never found much success at the pro level. Larry Brown remains the only coach ever to win both an NCAA title and an NBA Finals.
But Stevens is paving the way for more college coaches to get an NBA opportunity because he has been a home run for the Celtics. You actually could argue he’s the best coach in pro basketball, or at least a firm second behind San Antonio Spurs legend Gregg Popovich.
The Celtics have improved their win total in each of the five seasons Stevens has been at the helm.
2013-14: 25-57, missed playoffs
2014-15: 40-42, lost in first round
2015-16: 48-34, lost in first round
2016-17: 53-29, lost in conference finals
2017-18: 55-27, lost in conference finals
Last season was Stevens’ finest coaching job, which makes it all the more absurd that he finished third in NBA Coach of the Year voting.
He lost his second-best player, Gordon Hayward, five minutes into the opening game. The team’s best player, Kyrie Irving, was lost for the season in March. Just about every other notable Celtics player missed multiple games with an injury, with the exception of rookie Jayson Tatum.
Despite all of the challenges, though, the Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 1, defeated the favored Philadelphia 76ers in just five games in Round 2 and took LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
Stevens has drawn rave reviews from rival coaches and players, as well as those on his own club. NBA legend Kobe Bryant also gave Stevens a ton of praise during the 2018 playoffs.
The Celtics have an incredibly bright future, and a roster loaded with All-Star veterans and talented young players is the primary reason why. But Stevens’ brilliant coaching is No. 2 on the list, and his ability to maximize the production of all his players — just look at the drop-off many players go through when they leave Stevens and the C’s — has earned him the respect of his peers.
C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge loves to make bold moves. But his boldest move arguably was hiring a 36-year-old Stevens in 2013, and so far, the decision has been everything the Celtics could have hoped for, and possibly more.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports
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