Sorry to disappoint Boston sports radio, but Brad Stevens is sticking in Boston for the foreseeable future.
The Boston Celtics gave Brad Stevens the ultimate vote of confidence yesterday, announcing they will be giving him a contract extension.
Stevens, 43, has been the head coach of the Boston Celtics since the 2013-2014 season. When he was first hired by the team, he signed a 6-year contract. After his third season in town he signed an extension adding 3 years to his first contract, meaning he would be in Boston through the 2021-2022 season.
Boston could have waited until the end of next season to decide on Stevens, as coaches do not often coach during the final year of their contract, but this shows the team believes in their head coach and want him here long-term. His body of work is more than enough evidence to warrant that type of confidence.
I thought it would be fun to look back at Brad’s time in Boston thus far, and what his future will look like.
From College to the NBA
When Stevens was hired by Boston in 2013, he was just 36 years old.
He had a widely impressive college resume which included two trips to the NCAA title game, but he had not given any indications publicly he wanted to leave Butler.
Danny Ainge works best in silence, and when Stevens was hired, it stunned a lot of people.
Stevens replaced Doc Rivers, who had been the head coach in Boston for the previous 10 seasons. During his time, a Big 3 was formed as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were acquired, joining Celtic veteran Paul Pierce. The trio won a championship their first season in 2008, and made it to Game 7 of the Finals in 2010 before losing to the Lakers.
Allen had left in 2012, Rivers left to coach the Clippers, and KG and Pierce had been traded to Brooklyn for a bevy of draft picks just weeks prior.
This was a rebuild.
The 6-year contract given to Stevens showed they wanted him to shepherd the transition.
It did not happen overnight.
The Lean Years (2013-2015)
When Stevens was hired, the best player on the team was Rajon Rondo. The 4-time All-Star had torn his ACL in January, and there was doubt if he would ever play for the Celtics again. Would the team build around the 27-year-old point guard or trade him for more assets? For the time being, he stayed.
Rondo returned in January 2014, and was back for the beginning of the 2014-2015 season. This did not last long, as Rondo was traded to Dallas in December with Dwight Powell for Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, Brandon Wright, and two draft picks, the first of many trades by Boston until the 2015 trade deadline.
The moves Boston made in this time culminated in the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas. Prior to his arrival, the Celtics had gone 45-88 (.339) during Stevens first 133 games as head coach, but fortunes began to change with the high-scoring PG now on the team.
The Isaiah Thomas Years (2015-2017)
Thomas deserves credit for the a lot of the success the Celtics had during his time in Boston, but Stevens also deserves praise for making the best of the teams he had, and becoming the king of after timeout plays.
Thomas brought a scoring dynamic to the team that had been lacking since Piece and Garnett were gone. He may have been the 6th man, but he immediately became the best scorer on the team.
He averaged 19 PPG off the bench in 21 games to finish 2015, and the Celtics improved immensely, going 20-11 after he arrived (14-7 in games he played). Many thought Boston should be tanking, but this late season surge got the team to 40-42, good enough to make the postseason for the first time since 2013.
Although Boston was swept by Cleveland in the first round, the future looked bright.
Over the next two seasons, those picks from Brooklyn were becoming very valuable, and with loads of cap space lined up, it was becoming apparent this team had the means to amass talent however they desired and become a contender.
On the court, they were winning. They went 48-34 in 2015-2016 behind stellar defensive play (even if the team lacked household names) before losing in the first round to Atlanta. Although unable to add Kevin Durant during the 2016 offseason, they did sign Al Horford. This, in addition to drafting Jaylen Brown third overall with one of those Brooklyn picks, brought more talent to a team that remained largely intact.
Boston finished 53-29 in 2016-2017 (first in the East) behind the amazing play of Thomas, who averaged 28.9 PPG. Although they lost their first two playoff games (bring Stevens postseason record to 2-10), Boston went on to win 4 straight against Chicago, advancing to the second round for the first time since 2012. Boston would make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but IT was hurt, and he re-aggravated his injury in the series, missing the final few games versus Cleveland. Marcus Smart helped the team steal a game against the Cavs, but Boston lost in 5 games.
The team entered the 2017 ofseason with enough cap space to add another star, and the first overall pick via Brooklyn.
By the time the 2017-2018 season began, only 4 players from the season prior would still be in Boston, none of which included Thomas.
Boston went 121-74 (.621) with Thomas in town, including winning two playoff rounds in 2017.
All-in with Kyrie Irving
Boston stunned the NBA when they acquired disgruntled Cavs star Kyrie Irving, and many were angry with the team for dealing fan favorite Isaiah Thomas in the process.
As much as it stung, Kyrie was ultimately the more talented player, and three years younger and under team control for an additional season. We would also learn Thomas’s hip injury was much more severe than previously known.
This team had Finals potential.
2017-2018 was a roller coaster. Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific leg injury the first game of the season. After starting 0-2, Boston won 16 games in a row and was 30-11 halfway through the season. They reached 46-21 on March 11, but that would be Kyrie’s last game of the season as he required surgery to deal with equipment from a previous knee surgery.
Even without their two star players, Boston made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing in 7 games to LeBron and the Cavs.
The future seemed as bright as ever with Kyrie and Hayward set to return in 2018-2019, but things went south. Even as Kyrie said he “planned” to re-sign, by February it was made clear plans had changed. On the court, the team started 10-10, went on a 25-9 stretch, but finished 14-14, full of turmoil in the process.
They swept the Pacers in the first round, but lost to the Bucks in 5 games in depressing fashion.
Anthony Davis, who had been long coveted as a trade target, had made it clear he wanted to be traded to the Lakers (and NOT Boston) in late January, and officially was in June. Kyrie made it clear he was leaving, and Al Horford decided to leave too.
The course of the franchise was changing, and they just had the worst season (in terms of meeting expectations) of the Stevens era.
Boston went 104-60 (.634) with Kyrie in Boston, winning three playoff rounds (only one with Irving), but the future of the team would now feature Kemba Walker replacing him, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown taking the reigns.
The Future is Now (Starring Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown)
With Kyrie gone, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were the now the headliners, but they would need to rebound from their respective 2018-2019 seasons.
Boston signed Jaylen to an extension last fall, showing faith in he and Tatum for the future. Kemba would help, but this team belonged to Brown and Tatum.
As we have seen this year, they are ready to lead.
Tatum was an All-Star, and should be in line to make an All-NBA team. He made a huge jump starting in late January up until the suspension of the NBA, proving Boston has a superstar on their hands.
Jaylen Brown hasn’t been too shabby either. He just missed out on being an All-Star, but his performance during the NBA restart shows he’s a pillar for this team as well, and a great one at that.
The remainder of the team has looked solid, with Kemba taking somewhat of a backset to the young duo, while Hayward looks like the Hayward of old. Some questions regarding the bench exist, but this is a strong group, one set to compete for a title this season… and years to come.
As Boston enters their final game this season, they are 48-23 (.676). One more win would secure the highest winning percentage in a season for Stevens as head coach of this team.
When Brad Stevens first got to Boston, the team was beginning a rebuild, and his record during his first 133 games proves it, as the C’s went 45-88 (.339) in that time. However, beginning with the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas through the present, the rosters got better and better. From game 134 of his career to today, Stevens has gone 273-168 (.619), winning 5 playoff rounds in that span.
That regular season record would give Stevens the 19th best winning percentage of any coach in NBA history, tied with (and I’m not making this up) Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn.
Boston has a great foundation with Jayson Tatum (22) and Jaylen Brown (23), as well as Kemba Walker (30) and Marcus Smart (26).
During his time as head coach, Stevens has had the luxury of a team accumulating assets and looking forward. That is not to say he hasn’t helped in the development and improvement of the team on a yearly basis, but during his first four seasons there was no expectation of winning a title. There may have been in Year 5, but Hayward and Irving’s injuries made the team’s ECF run more of a surprise than anything. Last season the team didn’t meet expectations, plain and simple. Given the roster reconfiguration last offseason, this season was a transition year (albeit a wildly successful one), but expectations were not as high to win a title (before the season that is).
Regardless, moving forward the team will be in unquestioned win-now mode.
Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown are signed long-term, while Jayson Tatum is more than certain to sign a rookie scale max extension. It should be for 5 years, meaning he’ll be in Boston through the 2025-2026 season.
With Brown and (likely) Tatum each together for 4 more seasons (at minimum), the expectation will be to win a ring, and with no caveats like Kyrie leaving and changing course, there’s no escape.
I have faith in this core under Brad Stevens to succeed, but if Jayson Tatum is going to be a top 10, possibly top 5 player, and Boston doesn’t at least reach the Finals (or is on the unquestioned threshold of doing so) in a few years, what happens?
Anthony Davis was on a much less successful Pelicans team, and in the second to last year of his rookie max contract he requested a trade. When it was clear he would not sign a supermax during the offseason, the Pelicans were left with no choice but to trade him.
That gives Boston the next 4+ seasons to do enough to make sure Tatum stays. If Boston reaches a point after 2024 where Jaylen leaves and Tatum is increasingly unsatisfied, the course of the franchise will be in limbo. If Tatum reaches the 2025 offseason, is the star he should be but won’t sign a supermax, Boston will have no choice but to explore a trade (unless they think they can win a title in 2026 and go all-in).
This might seem drastic, but this is the reality of the NBA. The next 4-5 seasons will hinge on Boston succeeding and creating the best situation for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, continuing to let them flourish and grow, while making them want to stay. If this doesn’t happen, Brad Stevens could be out the door. Even if there is team success, one or both could leave for other reasons (as is their right), which would be out of Boston’s control, but lets just assume for now winning assures they stay.
Stevens is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and he has earned the extension he received yesterday, but in the years to come he won’t get any breaks.
The expectation will be to raise Banner 18 – the sooner, the better. Boston has all the pieces to compete this season, and with Tatum and Brown they will for years to come, but it should be understood the clock the Celtics – and Stevens – are working under.
The future is bright, but time is ticking.
Top image by Michael Dwyer/AP
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