During a recent Fox Sports One telecast, Colin Cowherd and Chris Broussard had an interesting exchange regarding Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. Despite lofty preseason expectations, the Celtics (36-21) currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference standings and have performed well below the hype train.
Broussard and Cowherd believe Stevens is struggling under the weight of the higher expectations and managing a roster brimming with All-Star caliber talent.
“There are coaches when you don’t have a lot of talent or any stars or any egos, they get the max out of you. They bring you far … but you give them some stars and they can’t maximize it,” Broussard said during the Colin Cowherd show on Tuesday. “There are some that are vice versa. They’re good with stars but not good with just average players.”
We covered this same topic eight months ago in this very space. Stevens, while at Butler University, reached the NCAA Tournament title game in back-to-back years on rosters devoid of top tier talent – current NBA players Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack aside.
Entering this season, the Celtics were expected to cement their place among the league’s true title contenders. After all, the team reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season and pushed the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers to seven grueling games in the process.
Boston had a very talented roster in 2018, so on the surface their success last season shouldn’t surprise, but the Celtics were playing without All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Hayward in the playoffs while relying on youngsters Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.
This is where Stevens excels most, as an underdog. One of the game’s best X’s and O’s tacticians, Stevens has thrived throughout his career doing more with less. No Hayward or Irving last season in the playoffs? No problem.
Stevens can undoubtedly outcoach the majority of his peers around the league. But can he coach a team loaded with talent to the promise land?
It remains to be seen.
What we do know is the Celtics have become victims of their own success this season. Integrating Hayward back into the lineup has reduced opportunities for Brown whose minutes have dipped from 30.7 minutes per game last season to 25.9 in the 2018-19 campaign. Rozier averaged 36.6 minutes per game in the playoffs last season with Irving out due to a knee injury, but he’s down to 23.3 minutes per night – and he’s likely headed to restricted free agency this summer.
Then there was the sideline exchange between Brown and veteran forward Marcus Morris Sr.
An epic post game rant by Irving seemingly calling out his teammates also drew headlines.
“Experience. It’s the best thing I can say is experience,” Irving told reporters in Orlando back in January. “We’re lacking it, and because of that, we have a lot of learning to do. So we have a lot of ground to make up in that aspect. It gets tough.
“When it gets hard, you’ve got to think. You’ve got to do the right things. You can’t gamble and think that it’s going to be the winning play. You’ve got to be able to play the full 48 minutes, no matter what’s going on, and hold your head high when you make mistakes, and when your job is called upon, you’ve got to do it to the best of your ability. You’ve got to come in and make an impact for the minutes that you’re playing out there. You’ve got to appreciate being out there and just competing. It doesn’t matter who you’re going against. It matters the type of preparation you have, what you’re going out and trying to accomplish.
“What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are the things I don’t think some of my teammates have faced of just every single day. It’s not easy to be great. So the things you’re doing, that you’ve done your entire career of being able to coast by in certain situations and you’ve gotten away with your youth and stuff like that, being on a championship ball club, you can’t get away with that.”
Irving has a player option for next season and is fully expected to test the free agency market. Former All-Star Al Horford also has a player option on his deal and, at 32 years of age, will also likely be seeking a new multi-year deal.
The latest bit of drama coming out of Boston is a report stating Tatum would be fine being the face of the New Orleans Pelicans if traded to the franchise as part of package to acquire All-Star Anthony Davis.
Once again, schematically, Stevens is a very good coach. But the great ones are able to handle the egos, impending free agencies, playing time gripes, locker room scuffles and trade rumor fallout.
Stevens has always managed to exceed expectations with less talent. However, now with the most loaded roster of his coaching career, he’s struggling and in the middle of the revamped East’s playoff picture. Stevens may well become a great coach, but the 2019 season has proven to be his toughest to date.
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