Hiring a coach with previous NBA experience is admittedly not the sexiest option.
It typically means things ended badly for that coach somewhere recently. But Brad Stevens is quick to point out that’s just the nature of the coaching beast and just about everyone not named Gregg Popovich gets fired at some point.
One team’s trash often becomes another team’s treasure. Just look at the Coach of the Year balloting from this past season. Four of the top five finishers are coaches on at least their second stop: Tom Thibodeau, Monty Williams, Doc Rivers, and Nate McMillan.
Recycled coaches have the benefit of experience. They know the rigors of the job and can avoid many of the pitfalls from their initial go-arounds. While first-time head coaches are shiny mystery boxes, they’re also a bit of a dice roll. Teams pretty much know what they’re getting in veteran coaches, especially in terms of personality and coaching style.
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Should the Boston Celtics go retread for their next head coach?
There is no shortage of talented coaches who are currently unemployed. The question, of course, is which available leading man would be the best fit for this current iteration of the Celtics. Boston, with a high value on continuity, likely desires a coach who can not only nurture the All-Star tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown throughout whatever title window is available now, but also be someone who can set up roots here.
Good luck trying to find hints about who Stevens might like among retreads because he has routinely gushed about all of his coaching brethren, particularly whenever one is dismissed. Take, for instance, when Atlanta dismissed Lloyd Pierce earlier this season.
"Lloyd is an unbelievable coach,” Stevens said in March. "And when I turn on their games -- and they just beat us by 30 [in February] -- but when I turn on games I learn something every time I watch his team play. And then, on top of that, the kind of person he is, the leader he is, the impact he's had on and off the court.
“Obviously, I've communicated a little bit with Lloyd since his firing but I think, like, my two thoughts would be he can do whatever he wants next. He's going to be in high, high demand all around the NBA, and my second thought would be I'm not sure people understand how hard winning is. It's hard to win. It's tough. And to build something long and sustainable takes patience and time, and it's not going to be linear. And so I'm a big fan of Lloyd Pierce.”
You can probably dig up glowing quotes about David Fizdale or Kenny Atkinson. Who the Celtics interview for their vacancy will tell us more about who Stevens truly likes among the coaching fraternity.
Pierce’s name is one that will obviously dance in speculation. Tatum and Brown -- along with Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart -- may have unique perspective on his candidacy, too, after Pierce coached them on Team USA at the FIBA championships in 2019.
The question for any team interested in Pierce is why things went sour in Atlanta. The Hawks, with the benefit of better health, surged at the end of the season behind McMillan. Could Pierce inspire Tatum and Brown in a way that maybe he wasn’t able to with Trae Young and Atlanta’s young core?
But so much depends on fit and buy-in. Fizdale couldn’t inspire the Knicks but Thibodeau could. Sometimes it comes down to patience and whether a team is willing to let a coach find their way.
The Celtics have had success with retreads after hiring Doc Rivers following his time in Orlando. Rivers hit some bumps in the road early in his Boston tenure and some were clamoring for his dismissal. The Celtics showed him support and he delivered a title when the roster improved. Now he’s regarded among the coaching elite.
Yes, retreads aren’t always the sexiest but experience matters. Stevens needs only look at his old Indianapolis pal Frank Vogel. After stops in Indy and Orlando, he took over a Lakers team flush with talent and delivered a title in 2020.
There’s a lot of good coaches out there and they shouldn’t be overlooked just because it ended poorly somewhere else.
Editor's Note: Chris Forsberg will examine different Celtics head coach candidates every day this week. Next up: the current NBA assistants.