Less than 12 hours after their disappointing 2020-21 season ended at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, the Boston Celtics were back in the headlines with an early contender for Woj Bomb of the Year.
Everyone knew that changes were coming to the Boston Celtics, but nobody expected something this drastic. Most expected a roster overhaul, maybe swapping out an assistant coach or two. Basically, just to try and build the team to succeed around their two young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But for their president of basketball operations and GM to retire, have their head coach to fill his shoes, and leave the team with a rookie leading the front office and no head coach? Wow, that’s a bombshell.
That’s not to say that I disagree with the move at all. Ainge is getting older and his heart attack a few years back really put things into perspective for him, which he discussed in his press conference today. He knew that the time was right to take a step back, and he felt that Boston had the perfect replacement already under contract. And it just so happens that after the last two seasons of dealing with pandemic basketball and the underperformance of this year, Stevens was ready to move on from coaching for the time being.
This is a move that could theoretically kills two birds with one stone. First, the rosters that Ainge had built in recent years, especially this past season, were just incomplete. The bench was never good enough and the starting lineups never seemed to mesh. For as much talent as they had, the pieces just didn’t fit together, which was never more clear than in Kyrie Irving’s final season in Boston. That team was loaded and did nothing with it.
That leads into the second bird: that a coaching change was desperately needed. This group, for good or bad, had clearly stopped listening to Brad Stevens as a coach. The trademark full-effort, gritty defense that Stevens’ teams had always played with had completely disappeared by this season. For his first few seasons in Boston, the whole was always much greater than the sum of its parts. But once the parts became stars instead of guys fighting to stay in the league, the whole became uninspiring at best. He just wasn’t doing the job anymore, as this team lost more games to straight up terrible opponents than they ever should have.
So where do the Celtics go from here? Everything I said in the last two paragraphs of this article still applies in my eyes, just Danny Ainge won’t be the one leading the charge. Will Brad Stevens be able to make the key decisions that lie ahead, or will his inexperience in this role catch up to him? This is a key moment in this team’s future: Jaylen Brown is a free agent in 2024, and Tatum will be in 2026. While that is still a long ways off, we’ve seen plenty of examples of relationships between team and star player souring well before free agency. The time to convince those guys that Boston is without doubt the place for them is now.
I think the best move for the C’s now is to hire a more experienced GM to operate under Brad Stevens, if anything so that he doesn’t make any completely boneheaded signings or trades that handicap the team in the future. While reports are that Ainge is going to stick around for a little while to show Stevens the ropes of being a GM, I would prefer if there was also somebody else with leading experience under Stevens for at least a year or two after Ainge is fully gone. These next few months and years are of critical importance, and it would be reckless to hand Stevens the keys and not have the correct structure around him.
As for their next coach, there’s a few different ways that the Celtics can go. While Chris Haynes reported that the top candidates for the job were Jason Kidd and Lloyd Pierce, I don’t like either of those hires. Pierce especially, considering he was fired this past season by the Atlanta Hawks with them floundering at 14-20. After his firing, Atlanta went 27-11 the rest of the way, and ended up in the playoffs. That doesn’t speak very highly of Pierce as a coach, so I would stay away.
Boston’s next coach needs to be someone who Tatum and Brown can relate to, and I have two names in mind: Chauncey Billups and Sam Cassell. Both are former players who spent time in Boston, with Cassell even winning a title with the C’s. Both are extremely well respected around the league, and both are also African American. It’s not exactly a secret that the Celtics organization didn’t like Kyrie Irving’s comments about the city of Boston and its troubled history, past and present, with racism. Hiring an African American coach would be a step in the right direction towards changing that narrative around the league. It may not be the prettiest opinion, but I think it’s something that Celtics management is going to take into consideration.
This is a huge shakeup for the Celtics, but it may prove to be just what they needed in the long run. Some type of change was needed in the leadership structure, so the Celtics redid the whole thing. As a side note, we’re about to find out who on the roster Stevens liked coaching and who he didn’t by who he moves once the offseason gets underway. Hopefully any emotion he has towards the players from his time on the bench won’t carry over and lead him to rash decisions, but I don’t see how it doesn’t. It’s the same group of guys, Stevens just now has the power to get rid of them.
This is, however, only the first step. Next comes the roster turnover. I still don’t see the fit for Kemba Walker here, nor do I think that Marcus Smart will be back next season. It feels like Smart’s leadership style (mostly yelling after defensive miscues) combined with his still-terrible shooting has worn out its welcome, while Walker’s knee is now too much to look past. If a good, or maybe even mediocre, offer presents itself, Stevens should pounce. Beyond those two, everybody else is available other than Tatum, Brown, and Robert Williams. I would personally like to hold onto Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, because I think their three-point shooting ability would be nice for this team. But if somebody is willing to give something useful in return, Stevens should absolutely listen.
I’m really excited to see what Stevens does with his new power. After years of watching Ainge stockpile picks, let potential trades go by the wayside, and always end up second in trade talks for superstars, hopefully the Stevens era will be different. The time is now to get a third star for Tatum and Brown, and all the pressure is on the new president of basketball operations to go out and get him, as well as find the right coach to bring Banner 18 to Boston.