Kragthorpe: Celtics, Jazz on parallel rebuilding tracks
By kurt kragthorpe
Tribune ColumnistFirst published Jul 08 2013 10:00AM
Brad Stevens coached the Jazz’s Gordon Hayward in college and is unbeaten at EnergySolutions Arena.
Those are sufficient Utah ties to make Stevens’ hiring by the Boston Celtics as intriguing to me as any development in the NBA this summer.
Well, maybe it’s not quite like Dwight Howard’s going to Houston, in terms of how the Jazz are affected in the Western Conference. But for anyone who’s as obsessed with studying coaches as I am, this is good stuff.
It’s a bold move by Danny Ainge, the former BYU star who’s the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. As the rebuilding efforts of the Jazz and Celtics play out on parallel tracks, the obvious distinction is coaching.
If the Jazz’s promotion of Tyrone Corbin when Jerry Sloan resigned in 2011 was a traditional, safe move, Boston’s landing Stevens is a risk/reward shot by Ainge.
Who would you rather have? Be careful, in answering that question.
Nobody can say for sure how Stevens’ ability to maximize Hayward and other Butler University players will translate to the NBA. That’s why Boston’s six-year, $22 million investment in him will become a fascinating experiment. Beyond further defining Ainge’s legacy in Boston, Stevens’ work will affect the future of NBA hiring practices.
Bringing in a proven teacher, a program builder, makes sense for the Celtics at this stage. And Stevens certainly inspires belief, based on what he did with the Bulldogs. They came to Salt Lake City in 2010 and knocked off Syracuse and Kansas State in the West Region on the way to the NCAA championship game, and then got back there the next year — without Hayward.
So in a sense, it’s impossible to imagine Stevens failing. But the NBA is so different from college. In an 82-game schedule, he’ll have to deal with a lot less practice time and a lot more losing.
Naturally, the failings of college coaching stars Rick Pitino and John Calipari at the pro level are being cited — Mike Montgomery always gets left out, somehow — but Ainge believes the Celtics’ organizational support will give Stevens a chance to succeed.
That’s the plan, anyway. In basically trading coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers, dealing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn and hiring Stevens, Ainge launched another makeover of the Celtics. For the sake of credibility, it helps that he built a championship team in 2008.
The latest twist is the coach, of course. Who could have seen this coming? Stevens could have taken any number of college jobs in recent years, including UCLA, but chose to stay at Butler with the program moving to the Big East.
The story is told that after fielding Ainge’s initial call, Stevens turned to his wife and said, "The Boston Celtics? Wow."
He’s so humble that you can just picture him responding that way. Soon, reality will take hold. This is a big job, requiring patience and a long-term view. The Celtics resemble the Jazz, having stockpiled future first-round picks. But the Jazz are way ahead of them at the moment, with core players to build around. Like Ainge, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey is making some shrewd decisions this summer. He’s creating salary-cap room for future moves and accounting for the big contracts his young players will merit at various points.
Hayward is one of those guys. Stevens’ arrival in the NBA added to his bargaining power, simply by introducing the possibility of a Butler reunion in Boston. Hayward undoubtedly will remain committed to the Jazz in the upcoming phase of his career, but who knows about the future? That’s just one more reason to monitor Stevens’ performance with the Celtics, as if I needed another.