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Why the 2024 NBA Finals MVP so far is… Brad Stevens

Why the 2024 NBA Finals MVP so far is… Brad Stevens originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Two games into what looks increasingly like a coronation, it's impossible to pick a NBA Finals MVP.

It could be Kristaps Porzingis for the lift he gave the Celtics in Game 1. It could be Jrue Holiday for his opportunistic paint performance in Game 2. Maybe it's Jayson Tatum for playing facilitator in the face of constant double teams. Then again, Jaylen Brown has embraced the two-way challenge of scoring on one end and guarding Luka Doncic on the other.

They're all good choices, but the biggest impact on this series belongs to someone who hasn't laced up his sneakers in 25 years – Brad Stevens.

The NBA's Executive of the Year has built a juggernaut that's in the process of outclassing the top-heavy Mavericks as the series shifts to Dallas with the Celtics in a commanding 2-0 lead.

The Celtics are the envy of the NBA, and they have Stevens to thank. They dominated the regular season en route to 64 victories, and there's a chance they finish this postseason 16-2. They're so good, it's easy to lose sight of how many home runs Stevens has hit since ascending from the sidelines to the big chair following a disappointing 2021 season.

Did you like that chase-down block by Derrick White with the Mavericks on the verge of cutting Boston's lead to three points in the fourth quarter? Stevens acquired the relatively anonymous guard from the Spurs at the 2022 trade deadline for veterans and a future first-round pick.

"The Derrick White trade is a disaster," blared one instant analysis, and it was hard to find anyone particularly jazzed about the deal. That might've had something to do with the fact that James Harden went to the Nets in a blockbuster the same week, but all White has done is fit seamlessly into the roster as an all-NBA defender with a deadly 3-point stroke. It might be one of the 10 best trades of the last decade.

Or how about Al Horford controlling Kyrie Irving and Doncic on switches while providing leadership, experience, and a decent 3-point stroke of his own? Stevens rescued Horford from purgatory in Oklahoma City, dumping the broken-down Kemba Walker and including a first-round pick to reunite with the All-Star big man.

It seems like an obvious move now – Walker was cooked – but at the time it hardly moved the needle. The Thunder had shut down Horford to get a look at their younger players, and neither Horford nor Walker seemed like candidates to play central roles on a championship team. Instead, Ageless Al, who turned 38 last week, is playing major minutes in pursuit of his first ring. The Celtics wouldn't be here without him.

Then there's the lift Sam Hauser provided with three 3-pointers in Game 1. The Celtics signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia, beating out the Heat to land the sharpshooter. He developed in the G League and has become a capable defender and rebounder. Not every contributor has to come at the top of the draft.

That includes Payton Pritchard. The guard nailed what head coach Joe Mazzulla called the most important shot of Game 2, a logo buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter. Danny Ainge drafted Pritchard, but Stevens resisted the urge to trade him after Pritchard felt buried behind 2023 Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. Stevens traded Brogdon and Marcus Smart last summer and extended Pritchard, who has seen meaningful minutes all season.

Speaking of Smart, that brings us to the two most obviously impactful moves of Stevens' tenure. It took some serious audacity to remake the top of the roster in support of Tatum and Brown. Stevens traded Smart to land Porzingis, and he shipped Brogdon to Portland to acquire Holiday.

The two represented the final pieces of the puzzle – Porzingis for his ability to score from elbow, thus diversifying the offense, and Holiday for playing the Smart role without any of the histrionics. They're a pair of All-Stars willing to defer to the team's two stars, and the Celtics continue to reap the benefits.

So while Tatum, Brown, or Holiday is the most likely MVP if the Celtics win, don't discount the contributions of the point guard from Div. III DePauw, class of 1999. Stevens may not have had a future as an NBA player, but he's done himself one better – he's the guy who picks the players as well as anyone in the game.