Brad Stevens’ first major task in his new role as president of basketball operations is to hire his own replacement on the sideline.
While Stevens took the self-deprecating route while noting the next coach needs only, “be better than the last guy,” there will undoubtedly be pressure on that person given the talent on the roster and the lofty standard that Stevens typically upheld during his eight years on the bench.
There will plenty of speculation about who the Celtics should interview for the gig and there’s no shortage of names that pop to mind immediately from Kara Lawson to Chauncey Billups to Sam Cassell to Becky Hammon to Lloyd Pierce and many other intriguing options.
But for the purposes of this exercise, we’re simply seeking to identify some of the key qualities that should be important as the Celtics decide who will be their 18th head coach.
When the Celtics hired 36-year-old Stevens in 2013, they did so knowing the team was about to embark on a hefty rebuilding project in the aftermath of trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets. Boston didn’t necessarily have to worry about whether players on the 2013-14 roster would immediately trust Stevens because most of them were not going to be part of the team’s future.
The Celtics, with two young All-Stars and pressure to get back to the title stage, don’t have quite the same luxury this time around. The new coach has to immediately command the locker room and leave players with the feeling that he or she is the person that can immediately get this thing back on track after an unsatisfying season.
Maybe most importantly, that person has to have buy-in from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Getting everyone else to buy in after your superstars are on board will take care of itself. That’s why we think that Stevens and Co. will seek feedback from Tatum and Brown during the hiring process and empower them to have a voice in the process.
A fresh perspective
It’s logical to assume that any hiring manager is going to want to hire someone whose ideas align closely to their own. But one of the unique parts about Stevens getting to hire his own replacement is his knowledge of what exactly this team might need to reinvigorate the core.
While everyone from Danny Ainge to his players went out of their way to suggest that Stevens wasn’t the problem this past season, it’s fair to wonder if Stevens' voice carried as much heft as maybe in past years. Injuries and illness complicated his task but he was never quite able to pull the 2020-21 Celtics from their inconsistent ways.
The next voice doesn’t necessarily have to be a drill sergeant to counter balance Stevens' even-keeled demeanor, but the next coach probably has to have a slightly different approach that might invigorate whoever is back from last year’s team.
Personality over experience
The Celtics just promoted a president of basketball operations whose only front-office experience was offering input to the front-office staff in his role as coach. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck has suggested that Stevens was essentially an assistant GM in his former role. But the point here is that the team isn’t going to get overly hung up on the next play-caller having NBA sideline experience.
Ultimately, the team is likely to value personality over resume. Work ethic, communication skills, and that person's overall vision of what’s ahead will likely matter more than necessarily their X and O prowess.
Remember, there are always ways to add some safety nets within a new coach’s staff. When the Celtics brought in Stevens, they tabbed longtime NBA assistant Ron Adams as a lead assistant to give him a veteran sounding board and someone that understood the rigors of an NBA coach.
Look at what the Nets did this past season. Steve Nash’s playing experience undoubtedly aided his transition but he was still a rookie coach and the Nets built him a robust bench that included former head coaches in Mike D’Antoni and Jacque Vaughn.
It’s more important for Boston to find the right leader -- and given the time they spend in front of the microphone, also someone that can serve as a primary voice of the franchise -- and figure out how to build the best support system around that person.
A partner in time
Maybe only the Spurs have been a franchise with more continuity and consistency over the past two decades.
Stevens needs to find someone who he can work hand-in-hand with long-term, especially given how the next coach could be here for the duration of Tatum’s time in green.
Again, Stevens doesn’t necessarily need someone with exactly the same ideas -- in fact, someone with new offensive perspective could greatly benefit this team and maybe invigorate the returning core -- but the long-term vision of how to build this thing out and a desire to be here long term should be important for a team that highly values consistency.