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The NBA no longer embraces the celebrity coaching saviors, the shameless self-promoters, the Armani-wearing, power-thirsty egos that college basketball churned out to sucker owners. Rick Pitino and John Calipari made millions of dollars on NBA hustles, transforming the illusions of emperorships into self-destructive spirals of hubris and humiliation.
Brad Stevens will not come into the Boston Celtics demanding to strip an elderly Red Auerbach of a ceremonial presidential title the way Pitino did. Stevens will never use low-level staffers to disguise themselves as Nets fans calling support for the coach into drive-time talk-radio shows the way Calipari did.
Out of Butler University, out of a Norman Rockwell painting and Norman Dale's gymnasium, Stevens comes to the NBA understanding that the saviors and superstars don't wear wingtips, but Nikes. As NBA owners become more involved in the day-to-day basketball operations, as general managers become far more insistent on controlling personnel and systems, the NBA coach is becoming far less autonomous, far less the franchise's central figure.
In so many ways, Stevens is a vessel for the evolution of the NBA coach. Partnerships over power trips, analytics over the cult of personality, a conduit over a conductor. To reach consecutive NCAA championship games at Butler was an historic accomplishment, but magic March runs don't exist in the NBA – just the dreadful, daily death march that comes with the transition from contender to lottery loser and back again.
Brad Stevens has the disposition to make it through the painful process of NBA rebuilding, and a commitment of six years, $22 million, Yahoo! Sports has learned, gives him a puncher's chance to come out of the inevitable losing and into respectability.
For the Celtics, management no longer wanted to pay a coach $7 million a season to oversee the gutting of the roster, the procuring of prospects and inevitable slide into the lottery. Celtics GM Danny Ainge leans heavily on his analytics staff, and at a meeting with Doc Rivers at season's end, it was suggested Rivers should perhaps incorporate more of those elements into his game plans and preparations, several sources told Y! Sports.
Privately, Rivers winced over the contents of some of the discussion, sources said. There was no confrontation, but there was tension. For Stevens, he's long been immersed in the statistical revolution, and he'll give management far more input into his rotations and style of play. For better or worse, that's the new NBA.
For years, people always talked about the failures of college coaches in the NBA. Yes, there's a path littered with mostly losers, but here's the thing people forget: Whatever the background of the NBA coach – ex-player or ex-student manager, NBA assistant or college hotshot – most are cycled out of jobs within a few short years and never have staying power.
For the Pitinos and Caliparis – great coaches, great minds – it was always the inability to get out of their own ways, to set aside bizarre paranoias, petty jealousies and always, always, impetuous personnel decisions that doomed them.
Brad Stevens should make sure he convinces fast-rising star Jay Larranaga to stay on his Celtics staff and forego a chance to join Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Stevens needs smart minds surrounding him, good drafts replenishing his talent pool and the patience of a boss, Ainge, who has always stood by his coaches and will be fully invested in the success of his bold hire out of Butler University. There are no saviors in the NBA, no geniuses transforming franchises merely by walking through the door.
This is a different day in the NBA, a different league, and the face of the future walks into the most storied franchise of all. Stevens is a terrific basketball mind, a family man, a relentless and resolved grinder of the game. Out of Butler, out of a Norman Rockwell painting and Norman Dale's gymnasium inside the Hinkle Field House, Brad Stevens is the coach of the Boston Celtics.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
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