Brad Stevens, who built tiny Butler University into an NCAA powerhouse, will try to guide a rebuilding project with the Boston Celtics and point guard Rajon Rondo, the veteran leader whom Stevens must now decide whether he will build around.
Of course, Stevens will try to accomplish something at which most college coaches fail: become a success in the NBA. The Celtics already know, having watched current NCAA champion Rick Pitino of Louisville spin his wheels in the pro ranks to a record of 102-146 in four seasons. The Celtics are reportedly giving Stevens a six-year contract worth $22 million.
Stevens, 36, has only known basketball coaching life at Butler, where he was an assistant for seven years before taking the helm six seasons ago. Yes, his 166-49 record and back-to-back appearances in the NCAA championship game speak highly of his ability. Stevens’ 166 victories in his first six seasons is the most by a Division I coach in NCAA history.
Will Stevens and Celtics President Danny Ainge be able to pull it off? Ainge opted to rebuild the franchise last decade around veteran forward Paul Pierce by bringing in All-Star power forward Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics as well as acquire veteran free agents for bench support. They went to two NBA Finals in three seasons, winning the franchise’s 17th title in 2008.
“Brad and I share a lot of the same values,” Ainge said. “Though he is young, I see Brad as a great leader who leads with impeccable character and a strong work ethic. His teams always play hard and execute on both ends of the court. Brad is a coach who has already enjoyed lots of success, and I look forward to working with him towards Banner 18.”
Ainge has financial flexibility to rebuild, plus the Celtics have nine first-round selections in the next five years. He can afford to deal away a few of those choices to acquire some proven veterans. Ainge has always been able to find an NBA team willing to discuss trade options, and that could very well be the scenario this upcoming season with a deep draft class available next spring.
Which brings everything back to Rondo, a 27-year-old four-time All-Star who reportedly over the years feuded with former coach Doc Rivers and Allen, to the point at which both were ready to leave Boston and did. Rivers is now the coach of the Clippers and Allen headed to Miami, where he helped the Heat win another NBA title last month.
It’ll be interesting to watch Stevens develop as a coach and Ainge continue to try to rebuild the Celtics via the draft or trades. Will Rondo be the centerpiece of the future? Or will he be Boston’s next big-name player to relocate?