COMMENTARY | Among sports fans, Bostonians probably need this holiday weekend the most.
In a frighteningly quick matter of weeks, they witnessed the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, New England's prized tight end, for murder. They experienced shock as their Boston Bruins lost on a freaky 20-second swing in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup. They saw ex-Boston Celtic Ray Allen hit a pivotal shot to swing the momentum for the eventual-champions, the dreaded Miami Heat. They lost the head coach of the Celtics to a Los Angeles team. They sat helplessly as two of Boston's all-time heroes, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, became the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets.
Need a break?
Well, on the day before our nation's Independence Day, the Celtics announced their new head coach.
Good news is on the horizon, right?
Could it be Brett Brown, the San Antonio Spurs assistant and longtime Australian coach, who hails from Portland, Maine and made it known he wants to coach the Celtics in the worst kind of way?
Could it be George Karl, the former head coach of the near-champion Seattle Supersonics and longtime leader of the Denver Nuggets?
Maybe it's Lionel Hollins? He's got a pretty good track record as an NBA coach.
Nope. Say what you will about him, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge likes to keep fans guessing. The Celtics' new leader, reportedly signed to a six-year contract, will be Butler coach Brad Stevens.
Step away from the ledge, Boston fans. This could possibly be the best move Ainge has made in quite a while.
At only 36 years old, Stevens has fostered quite the illustrious career. In just six years with Butler, he won a Division 1-record 166 games (at least 22 wins each season). The youngest coach to reach the Final Four since Bobby Knight in 1973, he coached the Bulldogs to national championship appearances in 2010 and 2011.
That's nothing to frown about.
Analysts and former players alike have lauded the Indiana native's calm, cool demeanor. But the two-time Horizon League Coach of the Year also yields acclaim for his focused, analytical approach on both sides of the floor.
"Brad and I share a lot of the same values," Celtics President Danny Ainge said in an NBA news release. "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."
To ultimately reach that point, Stevens must first sort through the process of a tremendous rebuild to the Celtics' roster, undoubtedly introducing a plethora of hurdles.
First and foremost on his itinerary will be the difficult task of creating a bond with Rajon Rondo, the enigmatic floor general and longest-tenured Celtic. Most will regard this team as more of Rondo's than it is Stevens', and it will take more than leadership and intelligence to get across to the 28-year-old. He'll also require an uncanny balance of stern authoritarianism and calm acceptance.
Sound complicated? It will be.
Rondo recently admitted he can be difficult to coach, and added that he can't see himself playing for anyone but Doc Rivers. That's a difficult statement for Rondo's new coach to hear or read, but he'll have to move forward with the mindset that such quotes never existed in the first place.
Stevens has the ability to rise to the challenge. Though he now becomes the youngest-serving head coach in the league, he has no problem setting precedents. He remains the only coach in Horizon League history to lead his team to an 18-0 conference record, during the same 2009-10 season the Bulldogs won 25 consecutive games and lost the title game to Duke by a mere two points (on a last-second shot).
He has no coaching experience on the professional level. But everybody has to start somewhere. And let's face it: Rick Pitino had NBA experience under his belt when the Celtics hired him, and he ended up one of the biggest coaching busts of the organization's history.
Stevens could be a difference-maker. He works well with younger players. He cares deeply about his teams, and more importantly about developing talent and winning games. He expects solid defense and demands hard work. And players respect him. That's half the battle.
"Players respect success," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said when he learned of the signing. "He's had great success right away. So I don't think he'll have any problem with the players respecting him. They'll respect him. They respect excellence. He has it. It's a terrific hire. I'm a friend of his and I wish him the very best...I'll be pulling for him."
With Brett Brown all but a lock to join the Philadelphia 76ers--the franchise with the final head coaching vacancy and the original bidder for his services--it will certainly be interesting to monitor their respective initial success on a comparative basis.
Of course, regardless of success or failure from the starting line, Stevens has six years and $22 million to work things out.
Sloan Piva has lived in southern New England for 28 years and covers the Boston Celtics. He has been published in multiple websites and has contributed for various award-winning publications in his 10-year journalistic career. Follow him on Twitter @SloanPiva.
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