Hypothetically speaking, what does the future hold for Brad Stevens?

Photo Credit: redsarmy.com

Photo Credit: redsarmy.com

On July 3, 2013, the Boston Celtics announced that they had hired Brad Stevens to become their next head coach–replacing Doc Rivers who presumably did not want to be part of the rebuilding process, and who can blame him? Rivers had coached a star-studded Celtics team from 2004 to 2013 and was fortunate enough to attain the ultimate goal (an NBA title) in 2008. However, with the team on the verge of trading long-time Celtics, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and subsequently going into full “rebuild mode,” it was time for Rivers to move on–which ultimately led to him being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a future first round pick.

Thus, Boston had officially started a new chapter in its very long, very rich history. Their new hire had been an extremely successful coach (77.2 winning percentage) who led his team to two national championship games. The “problem” was that this success hadn’t occurred at the NBA level. Instead, this occurred at a relatively small school called Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Interesting. One of the most storied professional sports franchises decided to invest in their future by bringing aboard a rookie NBA coach with a grand total of six years of head coaching experience.

Outside of those from the Butler community (who were obviously well aware of Stevens’ coaching ability), many were shocked by the hire. Was Stevens really the best choice for such a high-profile job? Well, the embedded tweet from the “Zen Master” did a decent job at silencing the early doubters out there. Last time I checked, Jackson was a pretty darn good coach, so when he talks, people tend to listen.

Stevens’ deal with the Celtics is reportedly six years, $22 million–or roughly $3.7 million per season. At Butler, Stevens made somewhere around $1.1 million per season. Though his deal with Boston is very likely back-loaded and possibly incentive-laden, let’s take the average of $3.7 million per season and run some quick numbers and provide a brief scenario. It would have taken Stevens roughly three and a half seasons at Butler to make what he made with the Celtics this season. To put it another way, his freshman recruits would have been preparing for graduation (assuming they stayed all four years, of course) by the time Stevens made what he made this season. Thus, it is economically understandable for Stevens to have left when he did.

From a coaching career standpoint, the move made perfect sense as well. This wasn’t the lowly Charlotte Bobcats calling. This was the 17-time World Champion Boston Celtics calling. The Celtics are one of the top five sports franchises in the United States, if not the world. What made the job even better? The immediate expectations were low, and the team president, Danny Ainge, publicly vowed over and over that he was committed to Stevens’ plans for the long-haul. Sounds like a dream job, doesn’t it?

Well, the 2013-2014 season was anything but a dream for Stevens and the Boston Celtics in terms of on-court performance. Despite a somewhat surprising start that peaked at a buzzer-beating victory over the Miami Heat, the season was a forgettable one for the Celtics–finishing 25-57 and 13 games back from the final playoff spot.

Despite having the fifth-worst record in the NBA and the fact that the team finished in the middle of the pack in terms of attendance, Ainge remains committed to Stevens and his vision, for now at least. Before I get too far into hypothetical-speak, let me make something very clear: I am very confident in the coaching ability of Brad Stevens, and I fully believe he will bring championship-contending success back to the Boston Celtics. This, of course, can only occur if he is provided with a better roster than the one he had this season. The fact that he mustered 25 wins out of this year’s “NBA” roster is already no small feat for the rookie head coach.

However, hypothetically speaking, let’s say the Celtics miss the playoffs again next season. At the same time, let’s say an established NBA head coach becomes available and Ainge, succumbing to the pressure of one of the most intense fan bases in the country, severs ties with Stevens to bring in a more proven coach. Let me reiterate: this is completely hypothetical, but with the pressure to win in the Boston area, especially given the sustained success of the Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins, I don’t think the possibility is too farfetched at all. If not next year, what about the year after? Or the year after that?

Thus, what would the future hold for Brad Stevens after his NBA experience with the Celtics? Depending on the timing, hundreds of NCAA head coaching jobs would immediately become available to him. At the top of the list would be schools such as Duke, Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina just to name a few.

Well, Duke obviously has Coach K, but at 67 years old, he isn’t getting any younger and Durham, North Carolina been a popular rumored landing spot for Stevens, and this was made even more plausible with Marquette’s hiring Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski. Indiana has Tom Crean, but they would drop him for Stevens faster than the time it took the NCAA to institute free meals for division 1 student-athletes in response to Shabazz Napier saying “there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”

UNC or KU? Roy Williams is 63, but you wouldn’t know that by how fast he paces up and down the court during games. Bill Self has a long way to go in his career (just 51 years old), but after disappointing, early-round exits in recent NCAA Tournaments, despite having premium NBA talent (Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins), how safe is his job? Especially if Stevens becomes available.

Well, I will argue: Why not return to Butler? Yep, you read that correctly: why not return to Butler?

There is absolutely no way to sugarcoat this past season. It was one of the worst for Butler basketball in recent memory. The team finished 14-17–good enough for 9th in the ten-team conference. 9th place out of ten teams. This wasn’t the big, bad Big East, either. This Big East was beatable from top to bottom, and yet, the Bulldogs managed just four wins in 18 chances. Three of Stevens’ last four Butler recruits (Berry, Brown, Castro) have decided to transfer, despite some of them likely guaranteed quality minutes next season. Three other players (two on scholarship) have decided to transfer as well.

Butler athletics officials won’t publicly say it, but the program under Brandon Miller is in a state of flux right now–both on the court and off the court. Defense, a Butler staple, was non-existent at times during the 2013-2014 season. Off the court, the amount of team rules that were broken had to be a new record for the program. Would this have happened under Stevens? I’d venture a guess by saying a resounding “no.” The move to the Big East was a bold one and no one said it was going to be easy, but this past season didn’t instill much confidence into the Butler basketball community.

Despite numerous dark clouds hovering over the program’s future, there have been some bright spots as well. Miller landed pretty highly-regarded recruits, Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman (but what about Trevon Blueitt or possibly Trey Lyles?). Former McDonald’s All-American Tyler Lewis has transferred to Butler and will be available for two years starting with the 2015-2016 season. Former IU guard Austin Etherington will be eligible immediately. Finally, and probably most importantly, Hinkle Fieldhouse is getting much-needed renovations to bring its facilities up to par for its student-athletes and its fans.

Stevens has his dream job right now with the Celtics, but if that opportunity is taken from him as early as next season, how could he pass up the opportunity of returning to a new and improved “home”? Sure, Stevens would have to take a substantial pay cut to come back “home,” but the money hasn’t stopped him before. Back in 2000, he had a well-paying job at Eli Lilly and Company when he left for an unpaid assistant coaching position at Butler, and that was before he had at least $10 million already in his pocket. Stevens always said he couldn’t leave Butler for another university, and at this point, this is still true. Though his stance has likely changed given his current situation, he could still prove this to be true.

Thus, this entire situation is completely hypothetical and though unlikely, stranger things have most definitely happened. Plus, once back “home,” Stevens would have “no problems finding a babysitter.”

Until next time…

Joe

You can find me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or @ButlerCupofJoe

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“Brad Being Brad”: Stevens and the Celtics Down the Heat

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Seven games into his NBA career, Brad Stevens is proving he belongs. Sure, it is an extremely small sample size, but the Celtics have been competitive in every single game this season.

Franchise cornerstones, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, were shipped to Brooklyn over the off-season. Rajon Rondo, easily the Celtics best player, is still unavailable–recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in January of last season. Last night’s starting lineup? Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and rookie center, Kelly Olynyk. Sure, they are all NBA players, but they are not All-Stars by any means.

This should be a big problem for first-time NBA coach, Brad Stevens, right?

Wrong, and here’s why.

Coach Stevens never had the most talented group at Butler, with the exception of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, and Matt Howard. Yet, he was able to guide a team, who many picked to lose in the first round, to back-to-back NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011.

Why? Team basketball centered on defensefundamentals, and taking good shots. This is exactly what his Celtics are doing right now. The season started off slow for Stevens–losing his first four games as an NBA head coach–a losing streak he never experienced while coaching at Butler. The 0-4 start led to various writers and fans discussing the Celtics “tanking”–in hopes of getting the first overall pick in the draft and taking current Kansas Jayhawk, Andrew Wiggins.

However, Stevens was not listening, and he has led the Celtics to three wins in a row–including a jaw-dropping, buzzer-beating win last night over the defending champs, Miami Heat. At 3-4, the Celtics are seventh in the Eastern Conference. Yeah, I understand there are 75 games left in the regular season, but as long as they can hang around until Rondo comes back, they have a good shot at making the playoffs–what would be a huge success for Stevens given the expectations around Boston coming into the season.

The Celtics are 26th in the league in points scored per game with 92.7. This is to be expected given their lack of scoring fire power on the roster. However, they are 7th best in the NBA in points allowed with teams scoring just 95.1 points per game against them. As the season goes along, his players will keep buying to buy into his system, and both the offense and the defense will get better.

Revisiting Last Night’s Win Against the Heat:

After Dwyane Wade’s boneheaded miscue at the free throw line, Boston had 0.6 seconds left–down 110 to 108. After the timeout, the ball was moved up past half-court for the in-bounds play–putting the Celtics in perfect position to get a chance to tie or even win the game.

Courtesy of the Boston Globe, here is a quote from Stevens regarding the last-second play, “I had that play written down, but I have never run it before. I have run some variations of it but by then, you are free-styling it a little bit because you don’t know who will be in the game.”

As we all can remember from Butler, Stevens was an in-bounds play genius, and this play was no different. Set up the game-winning shot to go to the player being guarded by the best defender in the league, LeBron James? No problem. A perfectly placed, off-ball back screen freed Jeff Green up just enough to get up his shot before the buzzer. A beautiful play, a beautiful pass, a beautiful shot, and a beautiful result.

Celtics 111Heat 110

Stevens’ response to buzzer-beater?

image (4)

A typical “Brad Being Brad” expression. It resembled his reaction after Roosevelt Jones’ buzzer-beater against #8 Gonzaga in Hinkle Fieldhouse last season.

Regarding the win against the Heat (also courtesy of the Boston Globe), “It’s one win. I hate to say it like that, but it’s one win.”

You’re right, Coach Stevens. It is just “one win”, but it is a signature win, and it even has Boston’s biggest fan/critic on board:

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Thank You, Brad Stevens

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Photo Credit: NY Daily News

I want to brief this post by saying I have been a fan of the Butler Bulldogs since 2001–the year my sister started pharmacy school there. I have remained an avid fan, and I am now in my 5th year of pharmacy school at Butler University, myself. Thus, I am not some national media member trying to make sense of the move. I am just writing about the coach that I have come to know over the years.

Thank you, Brad Stevens.

Thank you for leaving a high-paying position at Eli Lilly and Company to become a volunteer basketball assistant at Butler in 2000.

Thank you for leading the Bulldogs to an incredible 166-49 record during your 6-year tenure as head coach.

Thank you for always having a perfectly drawn-up inbounds play after a timeout. As a past player and a fan of the game being played the right way, it was an honor watching the magic you were able to come up with when it mattered most. It was truly a pleasure watching a basketball mastermind at work.

Thank you for leading all of us on two magical journeys through the NCAA Tournament to back-to-back Final Fours during my freshman and sophomore years at Butler.

Thank you for turning down job offer after job offer to remain at Butler over the past six years–from Oregon to Illinois to UCLA.

Lastly, on a more personal level, thank you, Brad, for sitting down with me freshman year–allowing me to interview you for over an hour on your coaching philosophy for a class I was merely taking as an elective.

Class, in every sense of the word, is what Brad stood for at Butler.

The day of the National Championship in Indianapolis, I had a class with one of the players, Zach Hahn, and where was he? He was in class–on the same day as the biggest game in Butler sports history.

Why? Because Butler players are at school to get a degree, not just to play basketball. Brad made sure players never forgot that.

Brad was much more than a basketball coach. He was the face of everything that Butler stands for–the face of the Butler Way.

Butler lost some tough games in his six years at Butler–including two national championships and most recently a heartbreaking round of 32 loss to Marquette. No matter the loss, no matter the call by the ref, Brad handled it with class. Sure, he may have been unhappy with numerous calls and had trouble dealing with losses, but he never disrespected the officials or the opponents.

Looking Ahead

Butler, now entering the Big East Conference, is probably in its best situation since it’s founding 158 years ago. Mr. Stevens is one of the main reasons for this.

Thus, I cannot be mad at Brad. He was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the head coach of one of the most storied NBA franchises ever, the Boston Celtics. Who in their right mind would pass up an opportunity like this?

Unfortunately, history is most definitely against Brad being successful in the NBA, but let’s be honest, when has that stopped him before? He led Butler to the National Championship two years in a row when most “experts” had them losing in the first round.

Top college coaches like Rick Pitino and John Calipari were unsuccessful in the NBA, but as someone who has followed Stevens closely the past four years, I am not doubting him. He may have a tough first season, but once he grooms his players to “buy in” to his system, the rest of the NBA better watch out.

As Butler great, Ronald Nored, said via Twitter, “I learned a long time ago, that whatever Brad Stevens says or does. Trust it.” Thus, I trust him, and I hope all other Butler fans will trust him as well.

After all, he did not leave for another school that he thought was better than Butler, he left for a dream job in the NBA. He is not turning his back on Butler, he is just taking the next step needed in his coaching career.

Thus, thank you, Brad, for everything you gave to Butler University. You will most definitely be missed.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Until next time…

Joe Schwarz (@stlCupOfJoe)
Butler University
Pharmacy Class of 2015