The Moore American

July 10, 2013

Ainge rolls the dice with Wonder Boy

CNHI News Service
The Moore American

MOORE — By Michael Muldoon

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Nobody saw this one coming.

The Boston Celtics’ clandestine coaching search consisted of their young assistant Jay Larranaga and a lot of speculation.

Amid all the speculation, I never read or heard the name Brad Stevens.

But Boston announced Wednesday the 36-year-old Butler University miracle worker will be the organization’s 17th head coach. The Boston Herald is reporting he signed a six-year contract.

At worst, Stevens is one interesting hire.

Butler basketball was one of the great college basketball stories of all time. That’s not hyperbole.

For a team from the Horizon League to make back-to-back national championship games is virtually unheard of.

Eliminate the word virtually. It is unheard of. But Butler did it in 2010 against Duke and 2011 against UConn.

He’s obviously inheriting a team in transition. Four of the five cornerstones of the team’s recent memorable six-year run (coach Doc Rivers and future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) are gone. The first three in just the last 10 days.

Rajon Rondo has become a bit too convenient a punching bag these days. Sometimes I wonder if he’s the murderer not Aaron Hernandez. But suffice it to say, coaching him (assuming he remains a Celtic) will be a daunting task.

No question Stevens is extremely bright and accomplished but his baby face and lack of NBA pedigree (as a player or a coach) will make it that much more difficult to get respect.

Recent results of college-to-NBA coaches is poor at best with some eminently capable coaches like Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger, Mike Montgomery, Tim Floyd et. al.

The best comparison might be Calipari. He was 37 when he took over the Nets for three forgettable seasons. He seemed to walk on water at UMass, which was coming off 10 straight losing seasons with a .295 winning percentage. He may have broken a rule or forty but he somehow got the Minuteman to the Final Four.

College coaches often have huge built-in advantages (power conferences, facilities, tradition, recruiting base) and start to believe all the fawning hype.

We saw that in Boston with Pitino, whose first move was to strip Red Auerbach of his title.

In college, you can run a couple players off the team, bring in a couple junior college players with 0.0 GPAs and you’re a genius.

The NBA is a players’ league to a far greater extent than football, baseball or hockey. The players run the asylum and if you don’t have enough good ones, you’ll be gone in a heartbeat.

If Danny Ainge can bring in some talent, maybe Stevens is the right man for the job. But talent is the first, second and third most important factor in the NBA. Nobody was calling Doc Rivers a genius until KG and Ray Allen came aboard.

Ainge said in an e-mail press release, “Brad and I share the same values. 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.”

It’s a win-win situation for Stevens.

If it doesn’t work out, he’s fattened his bank account, added NBA experience to his resume, avoided the recruiting cesspool for a few years and then will make a fortune for a top college in need of a top coach.

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Michael Muldoon is a reporter for The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.