The truth, whether you want to hear it or not, is that we really don’t know about Brad Stevens right now, either. The coach of the Celtics has been smart, humble and even-keeled during his career here in Boston. What he has not been is tested.
And so here we are now, 17 games into the journey for the first of Jaylen Brown’s five or six championship rings, and the Celtics are an extraordinarily mediocre 9-8. Isn’t it funny how that happens? What players like Brown and the Celtics are learning now is that there is a difference between being a team and being just a collection of talent, the latter of which the Celtics most assuredly are. But a team? Well, that’s a work in progress.
Which brings us back to Stevens, who has a challenge right now like no other he has experienced in Boston or, for that matter, perhaps his entire coaching career.
Think about it: Stevens is 42 years old, albeit with the wisdom of a man much older, and his entire coaching career to this point has been about him. It was about him at Butler, where he took the Bulldogs to two consecutive NCAA title games. And it has been about him here in Boston, where he inherited a rebuilding Celtics operation that was the Land of Misfit Toys. From Evan Turner to Jae Crowder to Isaiah Thomas, Stevens took a collection of square pegs and castoffs and turns them into one of the best stories in basketball, a higher-priced, professional version of those Butler Bulldogs.
Along the way, the Celtics started cashing on draft picks and their profile, signing two big free agents (Al Horford and Gordon Hayward), securing three high lottery picks (Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum) and pulling off a blockbuster trade (Kyrie Irving).
Now, finally, all of those pieces are together. And it’s Stevens’ job to make them fit.
Here’s the problem: with talent comes ego. In the NBA, especially, there is just no way around it. Kyrie Irving thinks he’s the best player on the floor. Ditto for Tatum and some of the others. That’s part of what makes them who they are, part of the reason the Celtics wanted them all. But when the team looks like a collection of guys who are more interested in scoring than winning, well, somebody needs to tug them on the shorts and point the way.
Is Stevens that guy? We’re about to find out. Most of us believe he is. One of Stevens’ greatest strengths as Celtics coach thus far is that he has seemingly operated with almost no ego, which is a smart move for a man who came to the NBA from Butler. It’s something men like Rick Pitino and John Calipari were never able to understand. But many of the greatest NBA teams in history had coaches with massive egos – from Red Auerbach to Phil Jackson – which leads to a rather interesting question.
Did all those championships beget their egos – or was it the other way around?
Sometime relatively soon, Stevens and the Celtics need to find out.