There is a special local rooting section for Brad Stevens, who is the latest successful college coach to make the adventurous leap to the NBA. His first Celtics training camp begins Tuesday.
Stevens was the central figure of the Coaches vs. Cancer Breakfast Thursday, which brought together the state’s Division 1 head coaches, and at which a three-game tournament for Nov. 10 at TD Garden was announced, featuring Harvard, UMass, Holy Cross, Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern.
The assembled coaches were not only former adversaries of Stevens but will be close observers of how he fares with the Celtics. Many college coaches wonder how their philosophies would work on the highest level, and they are watching as Stevens enters his dream job in rebuilding the Celtics.
“I think the very terrific thing about Brad of what I know of him, Brad’s a guy who can relate to all different kinds of folks and he’s also very smart in terms of management,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I think at that level, it has a lot to do with how you manage your organization and your team, and I think Brad is wired for that in a very, very successful way.
“I’m a college guy, but I’ve heard so many NBA people share thoughts and stories about how different it is. Different stories. Different dynamics. It’s quite different, but a sharp, smart guy, a terrific coach like Brad, I think is going to be able to pick it up and figure it out very quickly.”
Boston College coach Steve Donahue has formed a strong friendship with Stevens over the past few years and is convinced he will help the Celtics return to prominence.
“It will be interesting to see if [coaches will defect] because Brad isn’t one that any of us would have thought would make this jump,” Donahue said. “You could almost anticipate John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Leonard Hamilton, but Brad was the consummate college coach, and I think as college coaches we’re looking and saying, ‘I wonder how that’s going to work out?’ — and rooting for him at the same time because I think we all feel strongly he does things the right way.”
The NBA has been unkind to college coaches, chewing up Pitino, Hamilton, Calipari, and MikeMontgomery.
“There’s so much more that goes into coaching than what’s on the court,” Donahue said. “That’s always been a huge part of why I coach. I love helping a kid at a certain point in his life develop into a person, valuing the education, watching the transformation. Well, that doesn’t exist in the NBA. There’s also a part of me that’s intrigued that he’s trying it, and I said that to him [that] I’m curious to see how you feel two years from now, three years from now, to see if it will fulfill your expectations.”
Perhaps the biggest difference is the structure. The players are expected to attend practices, games, shootarounds, and be on time for the team flight. That’s it.
“Brad and I actually spoke about that,” Donahue said. “He said, ‘It’s kind of strange.’ It was Saturday and we were walking around [the BC] campus and he said, ‘I don’t know where my guys are.’ As soon as he said that, I knew where six [of my players] were going that day and what they were doing.”
Holy Cross coach Milan Brown said Stevens, in a sense, is representing those mid-major coaches with bigger aspirations.
“I think if anybody could do it and deserved a shot, he did,” Brown said. “He’s an intelligent basketball coach and he understands how to mold teams. I think it’s different. You could have half your roster making more money than you and money makes the decision. He’ll find a way to get through to all his guys. If they give him good enough pieces, he’ll win.”
Lakers in role of also-rans
The Lakers open training camp with Pau Gasol as their leading returning scorer with KobeBryant still recovering from a torn left Achilles’ tendon. The supporting cast has been reassembled. The Lakers will be the second-best team in Los Angeles with Doc Rivers and the Clippers considered a championship contender.
In this transition year with Bryant in the final year of his contract, the Lakers are retaining salary-cap space for a run next summer at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers are an afterthought this season, but matters in Hollywood are always interesting.
As for Bryant, his rehabilitation is progressing, but visions of him making a triumphant return on opening night against the Clippers are farfetched, and general manager Mitch Kupchak wasn’t optimistic that his superstar would return soon.
“I do believe he’ll get back and play this season,” Kupchak said. “You won’t be able to look at him and say he was hurt. In other words, some guys, like myself when I hurt my knee, I always had a limp. You won’t be able to tell. He’ll get back on the court, he’ll be healthy, but he is 35. His game has been evolving anyway the last two or three years, although statistically you would not notice that.
“Even if there is a difference statistically this year, it may be a function not of the injury but of the team we have. He may decide to get players involved more or do things differently. He comes into the season with a mind-set of how he’s going to play. I do expect when he does come back, and if he’s thinking a certain way, and we’re down by 2 or 3, the Kobe we all know and love is going to take the last shot. I do know that.”
While the fate of James and Anthony will be among the larger NBA story lines of the season since both can opt out of their contracts, Bryant’s future also will emerge as a major issue. Bryant is making $30 million in the final year of his deal and of course could re-sign with the Lakers for an increase under the collective bargaining agreement rules.
“I would suspect that at some point this season, we’ll sit down, whether it be Kobe and I, or Kobe and his representative, Rob Pelinka, and talk about the future,” Kupchak said. “But Kobe has made it clear that he intends to retire in a Laker uniform, and I know as an organization we feel the same way. I think it makes sense for him and for us to get him back on the court, and get a feel or a gauge of how much longer he wants to play and at what level.”
The Lakers have just four players committed to contracts after this season — Steve Nash, NickYoung, Elias Harris, and Robert Sacre. The organization has a mere $12 million committed to salaries next season, meaning there is space for two maximum contracts and potentially a Bryant extension. But the roster needs more than superstars. The Lakers lack an impact center and power forward, and the bench needs to be replenished.
Next summer could be one of the biggest since the club added Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the 1996 offseason.
“Yeah, I do think it’s a little bit dangerous [to look ahead] only because the rules have been created where it’s going to be tough to get players to move,” Kupchak said. “It really is. I don’t know what next offseason holds. Certainly, we’ll be active. If we want to get done what we want to get done, then great. If not, we’ll move to the next offseason, and then we’ll move to the next offseason.
“I know at some point in time we’ll be able to put together a very competitive and attractive team. I don’t think this is a franchise that can take 15 years to build through the draft. The worst thing you can do is be burdened with contracts that are $6-$7-$8 million a year that go out three or four years and have average players, and you’re kind of stuck in the middle. You’re not going to get a good draft choice and you don’t have financial flexibility. So in my opinion, we’re probably best set up as we can be for the future.”
Thunder enter a crossroads
This is a pivotal season for the Thunder. Their five-year run in Oklahoma City has been wildly successful with four playoff appearances, a trip to the Finals, and status as one of the NBA’s elite teams. Yet, the Thunder remain yearning. Last season was supposed to be the year they reached the pinnacle of NBA success.
Miami defeated Oklahoma City in five games in 2011-12, which was supposed to serve as the necessary lesson that all growing teams endure. A year ago, Kevin Durant, RussellWestbrook, and James Harden were primed for another title run. But Harden was traded to Houston for Kevin Martin after the Thunder figured they couldn’t afford Harden’s contract extension.
A favorite entering the playoffs, the Thunder’s hopes were dashed when Patrick Beverley charged into Westbrook while he was near the sideline calling a timeout, causing a torn meniscus in the Oklahoma City guard’s right knee. Westbrook missed the rest of the playoffs and still hasn’t been cleared to return. So, question marks surround the Thunder’s quest for a return to the Finals. There is a growing level of impatience with the team’s standout players with the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, and Clippers emerging as major contenders in the West.
Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, an Emerson College graduate and Concord native, said the organization is on a successful path.
“We feel very, very good about the organization overall,” he said. “We’re excited about the next five years as well. We’re excited about this season. We’re excited about the opportunity to build on the successes of last season. We think we have an opportunity to do that.
“One of the things we enjoy about this team and look forward to is the fact they’ve been together for a while. They’ve enjoyed a lot of high performance and a lot of winning but also gone through some valleys as well, and had to deal with some adversities together. We value the fact a lot of these guys share the same scars.”
The Thunder scored well in the draft, nabbing hulking Pittsburgh center Steven Adams and rebounding maven Andre Roberson from Colorado. The uncertainty occurs at shooting guard where Martin departed for the Timberwolves, leaving a spot potentially for former Boston College guard Reggie Jackson or ex-UConn swingman Jeremy Lamb.
Oklahoma City did not make a major free agency move but added former Celtic Ryan Gomes and also welcomed back former Baylor standout Perry Jones, whose 2012-13 season was limited to 38 games because of injuries and a stint in the NBADL.
Durant will once again be the catalyst with Westbrook remaining one of the league’s top point guards when healthy. But who will be the third scorer? Will Kendrick Perkins return to his Celtics form after a couple of subpar seasons? There are many more concerns in Thunder camp than past seasons.
Former Celtic Kris Joseph has found a home, agreeing to join the Orlando Magic’s training camp. Joseph, the team’s second-round pick last season, played part of 2012-13 with the Celtics before being waived in January. He was briefly a Celtic again when traded to Boston in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett deal from Brooklyn, but was quickly waived. The Magic also signed second-round pick Romero Osby from Oklahoma, who impressed in summer league and could make an impact this season . . . Former Butler guard Ronald Nored, who joined the Celtics in a player development role, has been added as an assistant coach for NBADL Maine, the Celtics’ affiliate. Nored is considered a rising coach and will join Mike Taylor on the sideline . . . The Thunder signed former Phoenix guard Diante Garrett, who helped the Suns to the Las Vegas Summer League title game against Golden State, and also added former Kansas State standout Rodney McGruder to their training camp roster . . . The Miami Heat already added to their deep roster by signing sharp shooter Roger Mason Jr. With 19 players, there should be some intense battles between Mason, Michael Beasley, former Celtic Jarvis Varnado, Greg Oden, and Rashard Lewis . . . The Knicks have offered a training camp invitation to former Arizona State standout and Warriors lottery pick Ike Diogu, who has been out of the league since a two-game stint with San Antonio in 2011-12. Diogu is considered a strong post player but has bounced around because he is undersized . . . The NBA Players Association has retained Reilly Partners Inc., to begin its search for an executive director. Chris Paul was named president and the NBPA is seeking to name an executive director by the All-Star break, according to those close to the situation. The NBPA is in rebuilding mode after the painful lockout negotiations, the ousting of Billy Hunter as executive director, and the removal of Derek Fisher as president . . . The Lakers invited former Milwaukee Buck Dan Gadzuric to camp. The 6-foot 11-inch center played in Venezuela last season. The Lakers’ roster stands at 19 players.