The Boston Celtics dropped an atom bomb on the news wire Wednesday when the 17-time NBA champions hired Butler University coach Brad Stevens to succeed Doc Rivers as head coach.
Apparently the Celtics didn’t learn their lesson. They did the exact same thing 16 years ago when they lured Rick Pitino out of Kentucky.
How did that work out?
About the only thing that Stevens has over Pitino is age. Stevens is only 36, easily the youngest coach in pro basketball. He compiled an impressive 166-49 record in six seasons at Butler. But unlike Pitino, Stevens only got as far as the national championship game, losing to Duke in 2010 and Connecticut in 2011. When Pitino was hired as Celtics coach he was coming off a national championship.
Hiring a guy straight out of college without any NBA experience is a huge gamble for team president Danny Ainge, given the simple fact that successful college coaches don’t succeed in the NBA. Just ask Pitino, John Calipari, Jerry Tarkanian, and P.J. Carlesimo.
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale thinks Stevens is a bright guy with a high basketball IQ. He thought Stevens was a “college lifer” who would be a fixture in the NCAA for a long time. So when news hit that Stevens was leaving Butler for the NBA, Vitale was floored.
“I am shocked, surprised, and befuddled by the whole thing,” Vitale said.
Vitale doesn’t blame Stevens for making the jump. In fact, he has 22 million reasons why he would ditch Butler for Boston. But Vitale, a former NBA coach with the Detroit Pistons, is well aware of the challenges ahead. If he has any advice for him it would be patience and practice. Vitale says Stevens will have to deal with losing and practicing less.
“If he can be patient because he may lose more games this year than he’s lost in the last six years coaching at Butler,” Vitale said. “The NBA is all about talent. I don’t care how much you coach it comes down to the last four minutes of a game. The LeBrons, the Durants, the Chris Pauls they take over.
“Handling [losing] is a big adjustment that he’s gonna have to go through.”
The Celtics are in complete rebuilding mode, trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brookly and losing Rivers to the L.A. Clippers. The only star left in Boston is Rajon Rondo, but he too could be shipped to another team.
“People are very impatient in the NBA. It’s all about today. They can say rebuilding all they want but you as a coach standing on that sideline getting pounded day after day it becomes unbelievably frustrating,” Vitale said. “Looking at their personnel, if they were to be lucky, they win 40 games in an 82-game schedule. And I’m being kind.”
Vitale continued: “Bottom line is, how do you handle that? I did not handle that very well. When you look at the track record of college guys they had a difficult time.”
Aside from bracing himself from the misery of losing, Stevens also has to deal with less practice time. NBA players are grown men who make millions, so unless you are Pat Riley or Phil Jackson the threat of a two-hour, high-intensity practice most likely won’t fly.
“I was going two, two and half hours,” Vitale said, “and I remember vividly Hall of Famer Bob Lanier coming in my office and saying, ‘Coach, we cannot handle that intensity and that kind of practice.’ ”
Here’s what Stevens needs to do in his first Celtics practice: be confident, be honest, and be trustworthy. And most importantly be patient.