Celtics

Popovich remains standard, but Stevens heading towards coaching greatness

Popovich remains standard, but Stevens heading towards coaching greatness

BOSTON – Gregg Popovich was in a playful mood prior Monday’s game, especially when asked about Brad Stevens.

“I don’t think that much of him,” quipped Popovich.

Of course, everyone within earshot knew Popovich was joking, but just for good measure, Popovich clarified his thoughts.

“He is a special person,” Popovich said of Stevens. “And that’s on and off the court. He’s very intelligent. Intelligence is fine. But if it doesn’t come along with incisiveness and judgment and emotional maturity, it doesn’t do you much good. He’s got all those things and that’s large; not many people have that. It shows the way he handles people, the way he coaches. He’s going to be a great one before it’s all over with and he’s already a hell of a coach.”

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Popovich is the standard every NBA coach is measured against.

And Stevens?

He’s measuring up quite nicely, leading the Celtics to more wins every year he has been an NBA head coach while showing signs that he may be the coach-in-waiting to become an uber elite-like coach akin to Popovich.

Of course, Stevens has to continue to elevate the Celtics among the NBA’s elite, which means at some point sooner rather than later he has to bring home Banner 18.

But between now and then, Stevens will continue to help foster a winning culture that in many ways, resembles what San Antonio has done for years.

That’s how the Spurs can lose a player as important as Tim Duncan was to their franchise a couple years ago, and still bang out 61 wins in the first year after he retired.

And that’s why regardless of who plays for them, there’s a feeling the Spurs will consistently be in the hunt to win an NBA title.

The Celtics aren’t there yet, but it’s clear that Boston is gradually putting together the pieces to have a franchise that can compete at the highest levels in both the short and long-term.

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are proven All-Stars, and will be joined by Gordon Hayward next season when he’s back in the mix after suffering a severe ankle injury in the season-opener.

Boston has the kind of youth that has Celtics Nation giddy when they think about the future which will be led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who have both shown signs of being potential All-Stars in the future.

The Celtics’ present and future were on display in Boston’s 108-94 win over the Popovich-led Spurs, a first for Stevens and a first for the Celtics since 2011.

Irving had 24 points to lead all scorers. Horford had his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Brown had 18 points while Tatum grabbed 11 rebounds.

And the man bringing all that talent together in a cohesive fashion, is Stevens.

He often downplays his impact and his role in the team’s success, but players know all too well how important Stevens is to the Celtics.

Every year has been a milestone of sorts for him, a road marker pointing towards coaching greatness at a time when there really is no clear heir apparent to Popovich, the standard by which every coach is measured against and truthfully, fall short of being on that level.

One thing Stevens has been adamant about is that while he loves coaching, he has no plans of being around coaching for as long as Popovich who is now in his 22nd season coaching the Spurs.

“That would be smart on his part,” Popovich said, grinning. “I would advise him to do that. He’s got many more capabilities than me.”

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New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

Marcus Smart is right where he wants to be, a member of the Celtics.

But Smart, 24, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, readily admits that there was a time not that long ago when he wasn’t sure about his future in Boston when negotiations didn't go nearly as smooth as he would have liked.

“At one moment, I didn’t really know what to think,” Smart said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “My main focus has been on my mom and my family.”

His mother Camellia Smart was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

“When you go through adversity with something like this in your family, it puts things in perspective and everything else becomes kind of a blur to you,” Smart said.

One thing that is clear has been his Smart's impact on the Celtics.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been among the league’s top on-the-ball defenders for years, showcasing a level of defensive versatility that stands out.

Boston allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions when Smart was on the floor, which ranked among the league's leaders among guards who played 41 or more games.

And while he is often criticized for his shooting struggles (a career 36-percent shooter from the field, 29.3 percent from 3-point range), Smart still averaged a respectable 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game last season primarily as Boston’s first guard off the bench.

Despite a solid season, the free agent marketplace was not kind one to him.

One of the main reasons for that? Smart was a restricted free agent, which meant the Celtics would have the right to match any offer sheet he signed.

Smart was also hurt by the fact that there were fewer teams with the kind of financial flexibility to put forth an offer sheet that would make the Celtics strongly consider letting him walk.

But even before Smart hit free agency, Danny Ainge and the entire Celtics organization made it absolutely crystal clear that they wanted him back.

And as the free agency period dragged on, the Celtics - at least in their words - never hedged from that position.

In the end, those words were put into action. 

"Keeping Marcus in a Celtics uniform was a top priority, said Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "His intensity is unmatched, and the level of toughness that he brings to the team throughout the course of the entire season is second to none."

Smart acknowledged that the process became a bit frustrating at times.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up at,” Smart said.

And while that uncertainty was difficult to deal with, Smart actually looks back upon the experience and describes it as “a fun thing.”

“As frustrating as it is,” Smart added, “not many people in the world can say that they’re in talks to play for an NBA team, to make a dream become a reality. Being able to do things they never imagined they would be able to do. This whole time, even with everything going on, me not knowing where I could end up, it was still fun, exciting for me.”

And those fun, exciting times will continue for the longest-tenured member of the Celtics.

“Boston loves me, I love Boston. Boston wants me to be here, I want to be here,” Smart said. “I am here so, we made it work.”

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

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NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

1:32 - Marcus Smart is back! Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta discuss the 4-year, $52 million deal the guard signed with the Celtics on Thursday and debate whether or not he’s worth the money.

7:36 - According to Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, the issues between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady haven’t been resolved, but then we have Danny Amendola on Barstool’s “Comeback Szn Podcast” disputing this. Phil Perry, Tom Giles and Michael Holley try to make some sense of it all.

12:49 - After J.D. Martinez said that this Red Sox team is like a family, it has Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta wondering if the club has an identity and what that might be.

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