Coming out of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, I was all in on Brad Stevens. To be fair to myself I wasn’t as in on him as Chris Mannix but that’s a story for another day.
What I was in on though was that Stevens had at that point cemented himself as the best coach in basketball.
After somehow leading Butler to March Madness prominence before the Celtics, his work in the 2017 and 2018 seasons for me cemented him as the best in the business. In fairness, at this point, he had lead pedestrian rosters time and again too far greater heights than they deserved to go.
Here’s the thing about NBA coaching though, no one really cares if you’re a floor raiser. The best in the business raise ceilings.
We don’t call Phil Jackson the best coach of all-time because he led a bunch of junk teams to the second round. The reason he’s seen with such high regard is he took two franchises in the Lakers and Bulls and helped them go from playoff underachievers to NBA champions.
Look at Nick Nurse in today’s game. The Raptors do not win the 2019 title without his ability to get them over the top, that’s what the best in the business do.
Stevens on the other hand has shown us who he is up to this point. He’s an outstanding guy at getting the most out of middling rosters and has a unique ability to put them in the best position they’ve ever been put in.
Once he has the better team though, his work in the league so far is at best disappointing.
No matter what you think of Kyrie Irving, at least some blame has to go on Stevens for the trainwreck that was the 2018-19 Celtics. Then this past season, he got blatantly outcoached by Nurse and Erik Spoelstra in back-to-back rounds.
Neither guy had near as much high-end talent as the Celtics and yet, Nurse’s questionable Raptors roster was a couple bounces from the conference finals while Spoelstra mopped the floor in Orlando with Stevens.
I’m not saying Stevens is a bad coach. Far from it.
What I’m saying is that his ability to manage the league’s biggest personalities and get them to buy in has to be at the very least questioned. Irving was a disaster and this season’s team had multiple lockerroom blowouts during the playoffs.
At some point instead of celebrating Stevens for his unique defensive switch scheme or fun pick and roll offence, we have to ask why his stars aren’t maximized in the biggest moments. Even going back to Isaiah in 2017, Stevens has yet to help a star player have a signature moment against a really good team (sorry Celtics fans, the 2017 Wizards don’t count).
Where were the plays to get Jayson Tatum easy looks when he was struggling against the Raptors? Why didn’t Jaylen Brown get more offensive touches against Miami? Why does he allow so much of the offence to run through Marcus Smart when he has guys like Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Tatum and Brown on the floor with him?
Is he unable to control Smart’s fiery personality?
At some point, these questions have to be asked because that’s what the best in the business do. If we’re going to ask if Stevens is the best asset in the league in 2018 then we need to ask these questions now when we have more information.
Stevens doesn’t just get to ride the wave of two final fours a decade ago or that time he maximized Thomas.
The Celtics are about to have four max salaries on their roster. Last time I checked, when that happens you’re contending for a title.
Stevens is a really good coach but these playoffs were eye-opening. His in-game and game-to-game adjustments were flat-out weak against Spoelstra and Nurse.
If Stevens hopes to be seen on their level he needs to take a hard look in the mirror this offseason.
At some point a person is who they repeatedly show themselves to be and right now, he’s dangerously on the verge of locking himself in as a floor raiser.
Call me crazy but I want a Jackson or Nurse and not a Mike D’Antoni type running my basketball team.