OK, I’ve had a night to think about all this. And I have an expression for it all.
So Danny Ainge is out. And Brad Stevens is in. And it’s the second thing I’m really more interested in, largely because of one question: why? Why would Wyc Grousbeck tell us repeatedly over the years that Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in basketball, then remove him from the job to do something he’s never done before?
And the obvious answer: Money. Because the Celtics are committed to Stevens for roughly the next five years and because they didn’t want to jettison him and absorb the hit on his contract.
So now that we’ve all had a day to digest the chaotic happenings of Wednesday morning, let’s get to the heart of it. Does keeping someone because of the contract ever work? Like, ever? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. And if you want a prediction, here’s one: Brad Stevens will be coaching another team by the start of the 2022-23 NBA season.
Let’s back up here for a second. The event that triggered the Celtics restructuring yesterday was the departure of Ainge, whether by his choice or the team’s. The why doesn’t really matter. But with Ainge gone, the Celtics obviously needed a new head to their basketball operation. And if they brought in someone new from the outside, the next question is obvious.
What does this mean for Stevens? Shouldn’t the new guy get to pick his own coach, the way Ainge did after inheriting (and firing) Jim O’Brien? And the answer is yes. But the Celtics weren’t going to let the new guy fire Stevens with five years and who knows how many millions left on his contract.
So the only way they could keep Stevens was to elevate him, because it’s likely nobody wants him to coach the team anymore, Stevens included. But the Celtics foolishly and eagerly committed so much to Stevens that they were financially handcuffed. (Remind me to hire Stevens’ wife as my agent.) So they’ll keep Stevens on the payroll until another team comes calling looking for a new coach, when Stevens will eagerly jump at the opportunity and be done with what feels like a temporary position – and when the Celtics can shed their financial responsibilities and get a late-round draft pick who will likely turn into the next Ante Zizic.
In the end, here’s the reality: instead of rearranging the furniture, the Celtics should have cleaned house. Ainge and Stevens are good professionals who, if they want, will get jobs elsewhere. Both are financially secure. But the Celtics now have one foot in and one foot out of a basketball operation that needs a transfusion, and it feels like they are as badly managing their executive team as they have their player roster. Stevens isn’t Kemba Walker, who is damaged goods. But he’s still costly.
Look, there is a chance here that Stevens turns into the next Jerry West because he has great basketball knowledge and because team building in any sport is an inexact science.
But when you really think about it, this all feels like a stopgap move designed to buy time until someone else wants Brad Stevens to coach again.