Celtics put trust in young (36) Stevens
No urgency to this coaching search, he said.
But in truth, Danny Ainge's first thoughts turned to Butler's Brad Stevens two Sundays ago, at roughly the same time Doc Rivers' departure for the Los Angeles Clippers was finalized.
According to a league source, that's roughly when Ainge approached Stevens, who finally made the decision Wednesday to become the 16th head coach in Celtics history. He will be introduced at a press conference this morning.
And he'll be here for a while. The 36-year-old agreed to a six-year, $22 million contract, according to a league source. Ainge, who did not interview any other candidate or reach out to anyone else, reportedly likes the idea of hiring a young coach who can grow with the Celtics' young roster.
In the wake of a trade that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for a draft pick-laden package, the Celtics will have 13 players who are 29 or young on their roster, including 11 who are 27 or younger.
Though Ainge can be expected to make more moves before the summer is finished, the Celtics president of basketball operations admittedly will have too many players once the trade is announced next Thursday. He'll be looking to get younger, especially with eight first-round picks in hand during the next four drafts.
Stevens, known for his high IQ and an academic approach to the game, is very much in the new mold of coaches with an avid reliance on analytics.
Though Rivers kept an ear open to the stat-based evaluations that became increasingly important to the C's under the direction of Ainge, Ryan McDonough (now the general manager in Phoenix) and director of player personnel Austin Ainge, the new Clippers coach was decidedly old-school.
Stevens is known for making analytics a major part of his preparation, and he indeed is known for his preparation. He has been compared, curiously enough, to his professional basketball counterpart in Indianapolis. The Pacers' Frank Vogel, one of the brightest young coaches in the NBA, has a similar profile as someone who prepares hard and believes strongly in analytics.
"What you're talking about is a 36-year-old guy with a ton of energy," the league source said. "The coach at a school like Butler has a lot of responsibility.
"This is a real (down-to-earth) guy. (Stevens) is very poised, just a very calm kind of coach."
And the Celtics will give him time. Don't expect Stevens to be under pressure to win right away.
"Some organizations are just looking to make that turnaround so quick," the source said. "I don't think you're going to be seeing that at play here."
Stevens led Butler to five NCAA tournaments in six years, including the 2010 and 2011 national championship games, where the Bulldogs lost to Duke and UConn, respectively.
At 33, he became the second-youngest coach in NCAA history to reach the national championship game, and also set an NCAA record for wins by a coach in his first three years with 89.
Perhaps the only mystery is why he left Butler. Stevens signed a 12-year extension in April 2010 that would have carried him through the 2021-22 season, and clearly loved the university's tight-knit environment.
The Bulldogs will debut in the sagging Big East Conference next season. Had Stevens stayed, it would have been his third different conference, following the Horizon League and the Atlantic 10.
Or perhaps the Celtics brand simply was too rare an opportunity to pass up.