Brad Stevens: 'I just don't know that we're that good'

Brad Stevens: 'I just don't know that we're that good'

BOSTON — In a raw and riveting press conference following his team’s latest head-shaking loss, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens offered a brutally honest assessment of his now-.500 team and admitted that Boston has shown few signs of being the title contender that they were so widely pegged to be.

Stevens opened his media session by offering high praise for a Knicks team that shot its way to as much as a 26-point lead before fending off a furious Celtics fourth-quarter charge in what was ultimately a wire-to-wire 117-109 triumph at TD Garden. But the conversation quickly steered to a Boston team that will wake up on Thanksgiving with a .500 record.

"I just don’t know that we’re that good. Maybe it’s not a wakeup call if you keep getting beat,” said Stevens. "We have to play better. It’s not because we’re not capable of being good. It’s not because we weren’t good at one time in our lives. It’s your good if you play good and the results are speaking for themselves.”

For seven-plus minutes, Stevens offered an unvarnished state of a union about a Celtics team that isn’t as good as the numbers suggest it is defensively and allowed Trey Burke to become the latest guard to scorch them with a loud individual performance. 

So what exactly is ailing these Celtics?

“It’s not one guy. It’s not two guys. It’s all of us,” said Stevens. "We’re not playing with the same personality we played with last year. That’s the easiest way to describe it. And then the 50,000 issues that are below that, we have to tackle one at a time.”

What has changed from the personality of last year’s team, a group that surged to the fringe of the NBA Finals despite playing without two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward?

"I think we all know it,” said Stevens. "I think we all know we hung our hat on things that led to winning and we’ve just got to get back to that.”

While Stevens has been critical of his team, he has drawn the ire of some Celtics fans for not being more exasperated with his team’s continued underperformance. While Stevens is not the type to stomp and scream about his team’s play, he’s realistic about their struggles. And during his postgame media session, he didn’t afford his team any excuses for their underwhelming play nearing the quarter pole of the 2018-19 season.

While painfully obvious, it was still jarring to hear Stevens acknowledge how deep Boston’s problems run. There is no simple solution to their woes and only a sustained multi-game effort is likely to get them on track. That’s no small request of a team that hasn’t even been able to play one complete 48-minute game.

Stevens was asked if there’s anything from earlier in his coaching career he can lean on for guidance this season. Stevens found a couple of examples. 

"I thought where we brought everybody back my third year as a head coach and I thought we started off just kind of like this — up and down, but our defense was the one that was really hurting us,” said Stevens. "And what turned that around was we just decided to be nasty tough. And we just went with it. And, then, all of a sudden everything fell into place and we just put everything else aside and grit our teeth and played. And then, a couple years ago here, when we had mostly everybody back and we added Al [Horford] and we started off 11-11 or 12-12 or something like that and ended up with 53 wins.”

Turning his attention to this year’s team, Stevens was adamant that nothing would come easy, even with all the talent the 2018-19 Celtics possess.

"It’s not guaranteed that you’re going to be able to turn it around. The reality is you have to grind it out, you have to work, and you have to be able to weather all this other stuff that’s going along with it,” said Stevens. "I heard [Sixers coach] Brett Brown say this earlier in the year, and this is where coaches are sick in a twisted way, because the losing eats you alive. 

"The storm is part of a job. And I’m looking forward to getting a chance to really dig in, and hopefully we can weather it.”

Then, when the final question of the session wondered if Stevens is better equipped to handle this sort of situation than earlier in his career, the coach turned introspective.

“[Thursday is] Thanksgiving, right? We all have a lot to be thankful for,” said Stevens. "We lost a basketball game. We got outplayed. We’ve lost a few in a row. It’s been a tough stretch. I think that we’ll work, and we’ll do our very best. And that’s always been good enough for me. 

"You’re not going to have great days every day in this, and part of this job description is, like I said earlier, is weathering the storms. And so, this is a job, and we’ll work to correct everything we can. But we’re all so very thankful for all that we have, even on nights like tonight.”

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Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center preparing to return to Boston

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center preparing to return to Boston

Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter plans to make a 15-hour drive to Boston this weekend with hopes that the team’s practice facility will open as early as Monday for players to engage in voluntary individual workouts.

Kanter, who has spent much of the past two months in Chicago, anticipates having a friend drive him to Boston this weekend and told coach Brad Stevens to expect him at the facility Monday if the team is given the clearance to re-open by that point.

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"Coach Brad actually texted me [Thursday and] said, ‘Let me know when you’re coming so I can put you in a schedule,’” said Kanter. "I don’t think everybody is going to come because it’s not mandatory. I’m like, ‘OK, I’m coming. I’ll be there Monday.’

"I want to be in Boston, man. I miss Boston."

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Kanter said he elected against commercial air travel or even a car service because he would force himself to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Massachusetts. By limiting the safety concerns, he’s hopeful to dive back into basketball work.

Kanter acknowledged that the state might require the team to wait beyond Monday to open, but he’s eager to get back to even the most basic of basketball activities, all with hopes of a summer restart to the NBA season.

"I need some kind of discipline in my life right now,” said Kanter. "Because, like, right now, I’m waking up late and eating whatever. I work out whenever I want to work out. Once you are in Boston, I think my life is going to be a little bit more disciplined. And I’m going to be more focused because, when you’re not in Boston, your head is all over the world.”

Former teammate tells Enes Kanter one NBA All-Star not eager to return

Former teammate tells Enes Kanter one NBA All-Star not eager to return

Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter believes that most NBA players are eager for the season to restart this summer, but said he’s been told by a former teammate that at least one All-Star-caliber player in the Eastern Conference is leery of returning until a vaccine exists to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“A lot of the players, especially on our [Celtics] team, yes, they do want to get back. They're itching to go out there and play basketball,” Kanter said on this week’s “The Enes Kanter Show” on the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

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"This is my ninth year in the league, I have so many friends on different teams, right? I was actually talking to one of my friends and he said — I’m not going to tell who or which team — but he said, ‘There's so many guys on our team, they're not going to play.' They’re actually in the Eastern Conference, they’re in a playoff spot, and they’re like superstars. Like, if I tell you who it is, you’d go crazy. 

I just can’t tell you who that is. But they said, ‘Hey, we're not going to play.’ … Until they find a vaccine, until they find a cure, they’re not going to play.

Kanter didn’t reference whether if it was a former or current All-Star and he has deep ties throughout the league after stops with the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, and Celtics. It’s also important to note that it’s secondhand information and might not definitively reflect whether that concerned star's feelings have changed more recently.

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The NBA is still discussing potential return-to-action plans and has not formally outlined a restart plan or how it plans to ensure player safety, something that might diminish any concerns a player might have about a resumption in play. The NBA acknowledged last week that it had started exploratory talks with Disney World about a possible bubble scenario in Orlando. 

What it does suggest is that at least a small percentage of NBA players have concerns about the health risks involved with a restart amid this pandemic. Kanter said that, if what he is being told is true, the names would surprise fans.

"I was shocked, though, by the players that didn’t want to play,” said Kanter. "If they don’t play, like, wow, those people are like All-Star players.”