The massive news out of Boston today leaves everyone’s jaw agape. Danny Ainge is leaving the Celtics. The organization is looking for a new coach. And Brad Stevens is heading to… the front office?
Wasn’t Stevens not long ago considered a coaching prodigy? Wasn’t Ainge’s hiring of Stevens seen as a coup? Isn’t Stevens credited for Butler’s two title appearances and the Celtics’ three East Finals? Wasn’t Stevens reportedly given a godfather offer to come coach Indiana?
How it’s possible Stevens’ star has fallen so dramatically he’s leaving the sidelines altogether is a crazy turn of events. In all reality, Stevens would likely get a job by 3p this afternoon if he wanted to remain in coaching. Whether it’s the NBA or college, someone would hand him the keys to a team. He’s still viewed by many as a bright basketball mind who has plenty of good years in front of him. He’s only 44.
And if he texted the Hoosiers today “hey u up?,” he’d get blinking white dots within seconds. Indiana would probably push Mike Woodson to assistant or buy him out immediately to get Stevens on the sidelines. It wouldn’t appear to be a lack of options that forced Stevens to break from coaching.
But something cracked within him. Reportedly he’s been tired of coaching since the bubble last summer, and the intense expectations in Boston certainly must have been exhausting. They don’t hang banners for East Finals or division championships. The Kyrie Irving disaster took years off his life. A roster filled with poorly fitting parts this year must have drained him as well. Injuries to Gordon Hayward in previous years or Kemba Walker this season took their toll.
But Stevens is also clearly to blame. The team tuned him out. For all the accolades he gets for “out of timeout plays, there’s been questions about his motivation tactics, and a ceiling to his Celtics teams. Couldn’t get past LeBron. Couldn’t get past Giannis. Couldn’t beat the Cinderella Heat. And this year with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown largely healthy all season he steered them to a 7-seed. Worse than the Knicks. Worse than the Hawks. Almost out of the playoffs altogether. Woof.
There’s some type of burnout in Stevens, and bumping up to the cushy chairs in the offices is an exhale. Sure, he’ll have expectations to build a winner. But that’s a cooperative effort with assistant GMs and scouts. On the sideline, you’re the voice of the franchise. You win, you lose, it’s your team. Every night. Perhaps it’s a reset. He could take a few years in the front office and then return to coaching. Gregg Poppovich and Ainge swung between GM and coaching roles.
Indiana wanted Stevens badly, but they probably are better off without him. The worst thing that could have happened is Stevens taking the gig for the huge money and fawning fans/media. If he thought coaching Brown and Tatum was hard, try texting 18-year olds non-stop, and making sure your kids don’t post something dumb on IG or ignore their European History 203 class. Oh, and then beat Michigan on Saturday.
If Stevens is burnt out on coaching the Indiana job is not a soft mattress to land on. It’s going to take lots of recruiting, lots of program building, and lots of energy. Being tired of any part of that is not in the equation.
Syracuse is locked in multiple recruiting battles with Indiana for star talents like Zion Cruz and Kyle Filipowski, so we’re keeping track of the events in Bloomington. Today Hoosiers fans may feel dejected because Stevens would rather quit coaching than take the Indiana job. But they should be relieved Stevens passed on the gig.