This extended grace period being enjoyed by Celtics coach Brad Stevens is far more than just a nice little honeymoon. This is the sports equivalent of marrying into a blue-blood family whose patriarch has lavished the happy couple with a yearlong, all-expenses-paid trip around the world, all the accommodations being five-star hotels. I mean, we’re not talking weekend at the Cape here.
Losing is good. No, make that great. Winning? Not so much.
Remember back in December when the Celtics had just defeated the Timberwolves to raise their record to 12-14? They had won five of seven and eight of 12 and appeared to be playoff-bound. From Presque Isle to Pawcatuck people were screaming, “Hey! What are you doing?’’
They needn’t have worried. Nature took its course, as I always figured it would. There would be injuries and there would be players reverting to their true selves and there would be transactions, all of which would add up to the Celtics identifying themselves as a very legitimate Have Not.
Through it all, Stevens just kept doing his job, which was to learn the whys and wherefores of coaching in the world’s best basketball league. It was never about winning and losing, per se, although I suspect that 0-82 might have had his father-in-law questioning his daughter’s choice.
I’m serious when I say that a year ago today you and I knew more about the NBA than Brad Stevens did. I’m not talking about actually coaching basketball at something other than a youth level. And I know Stevens says he used to watch more NBA than anyone ever realized. I’m talking about living through years and decades of the actual NBA experience, which has nothing to do with high school, college, or anything else.
We knew about the seasonal ebb and flow and the nature of the 24-second clock. We knew about the bizarre calls and non-calls that affect close games. We knew about February.
Yeah, February. And March. We knew about the fact that you always wind up needing a 20-man roster and that the odds are that the day will come when you will not have enough healthy players to scrimmage and either you or one of your younger assistants, or your video guy or the team photographer will have to suit up. You and I knew about player beefs and gripes and general attitudes that invariably come into play. You and I knew about back-to-backs and four-out-of-sixes and midnight calls from agents, brothers, cousins, and high school teammates telling a playing that the coach is screwing him over.
Stevens knows all of this now but, unlike most coaches in a new job, however young or however experienced they may be, he could encounter all this new stuff without having to worry much about whether he would wind up winning 10, 20, or 30 games. Brad Stevens is the envy of every beleaguered coach out there. They’re all saying, “How do I get a job like that?”
Soon enough, that will change. The idea is that Danny Ainge will utilize his ever-growing stash of draft picks to restock and rebuild his team. (It’s too much to ask for a quality free agent to choose an old, cold Eastern city.) The idea is that sooner or later the Celtics will be a playoff team en route to championship No. 18, and that Brad Stevens having become as knowledgeable about the inner workings of the NBA as you and I, will employ his X and O savvy and his people skills to coach this more skilled team in a manner that would make a Red, Russell, Fitch, K.C., or Doc proud.
Meanwhile, cease and desist with the tank talk, OK? The Celtics aren’t going to have the worst record, or even the second-worst record. But they have few enough winnable games remaining to wind up with a decent pick, and if they have a reversal of lottery fortune history they might still luck out and have a shot at a Jabari Parker, an Andrew Wiggins, or a Joel Embiid.
But the fact is there is no guarantee of anything, for anybody. It’s conceivable that neither Milwaukee nor Philadelphia will get the top pick, and that a Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles (Lakers, that is) or Utah will. That’s No. 1.
Secondly, drafting will forever be, with but a handful of exceptions, an inexact science, in addition to which, 90 percent of the people yapping about how the Celtics should tank have no idea who the team might get at 5, 6, or 7. They might know Parker or Wiggins, but do they know Dante Exum?
I guarantee you Brad Stevens hasn’t been worrying himself about the draft. He’s been too busy trying to raise himself to our level of true NBA expertise.
Oh, and he has all summer to get out the thank-you notes. But when September comes he had better be ready for a whole new level of scrutiny. The You-Know-What will be over.