Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

July 5, 2013

Best of luck, Brad

By Justin Whitaker

— Good for you, Brad Stevens.

The former Butler University coach got an opportunity he couldn’t turn away from when the Boston Celtics came calling.

Every major college program with a head coaching vacancy had been interested in Stevens the past four years. But no job, even UCLA, one of the most prestigious in the country, was enough for Stevens to consider leaving the comfy confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse.

That is until the Celtics, the NBA’s most storied franchise, showed interest.

Stevens is one of very few coaches in the world who can jump from a campus with an enrollment of close to 4,000 to a franchise that has won an NBA-record 17 titles.

The move Wednesday came as a surprise. But the surprise was more that Stevens is leaving Butler, rather than that he got a big-time NBA offer.

Duke and U.S. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski, the coach that Stevens has often been compared to, told ESPN’s Andy Katz that Stevens will excel in the association.

“He’s really smart,” Krzyzewski said to ESPN. “His teams play that way. He’s just a heckuva  coach. He has a maturity of an established head coach right away. I just think — forget about young coaches — I think he’s one of the best coaches. I don’t think you could have a better guy. He’s smart and he’ll adapt. I think he’ll do a really good job there.”

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told Katz that Stevens was, “The best young coach I’ve seen in my time.”

Whether he will succeed at the next level or fail as other big-time college coaches like John Calipari or Rick Pitino did before him is the biggest unknown of this move.

But crazier things have happened.

Like Butler making the Final Four in its hometown or the Bulldogs returning the next season after losing Gordon Hayward to the NBA and appearing in back-to-back national championship games.

Butler is where it is today because of Brad Stevens.

The two title game appearances, the national exposure, the move to the Atlantic 10 Conference, and the move to the Big East Conference this upcoming season are all because of the path Stevens paved.

It was a situation that seemed too good to be true. A hometown coach, who is nationally respected, staying put even when the big schools came calling.

Boston General Manager Danny Ainge played the NBA trump card and it was too good of an opportunity to turn down.

This isn’t the Toronto Raptors or the Sacramento Kings.

It’s the team where Larry Bird became Larry the Legend. It’s the franchise that’s had two of the Top 10 Coaches in NBA History in Red Auerbach and Bill Fitch.

The Celtics are in full rebuilding mode after coach Doc Rivers departed for the Los Angeles Clippers and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets.

Stevens enters a situation where he isn’t expected to win immediately, but instead oversee the team’s growth in its return to the NBA elite. The Celtics are two years removed from an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals and five years removed from their last NBA championship.

Hopefully, Stevens receives patience during his six-year deal because Boston is years away from entering the championship picture again. The Pierce, Garnett trade shows that the Celtics are building for the future as they got picks and expiring contracts in return.

An essential part to Stevens’ success will be the relationship with volatile star point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo had multiple run-ins with Rivers and other teammates in previous years and those were with winning teams.

The Celtics struggled last season going 41-40 but made the playoffs as the seventh seed.  Rondo missed half of last season after suffering a torn ACL in January.

With a healthy Rondo and an improving Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, Boston sure won’t be the worst team in the NBA, but they won’t be the best either.

Stevens could lead the Celtics to a .500 record and maybe one of the final playoff spots like they did this past season. Or Boston could unofficially tank the 2013-14 season for a chance at the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, the top-ranked Kansas recruit who is believed to be the best prospect since Kevin Durant.

No matter Stevens’ success at the next level, it was the right move to jump to the NBA. Stevens practically had an open invitation to coach at Butler for as long as he wanted and I’m sure he could come back if the NBA is a disaster.

I sure wouldn’t bet against Stevens in the NBA though.

It might not happen this season or next, but the NBA better be on notice. Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics are coming.

— Justin Whitaker is a sports writer for the Hendricks County Flyer. Contact him by e-mailing to Justin.whitaker@flyergroup.com.