CHICAGO — Brad Stevens’s gaze never wandered. Sitting courtside, the Celtics coach focused on the prospects before him and nothing else.
When approached for an interview Thursday, Stevens made only one request.
“Is it OK if I keep looking forward?”
He didn’t want to miss one moment during his first NBA Draft combine.
The process has reminded the former Butler coach of his time spent recruiting in college, when he’d attend camps or games and study players that might join his team.
“Obviously, this is a higher level of player than I’m used to evaluating, and a different age, but the setup is pretty similar to a typical day watching a workout in July in the recruiting period,” he said.
The key difference here, aside from how much better the players are, is that the Celtics
But temporarily freed from his duties as a coach, Stevens is observing prospects in workouts and in interviews after a brief vacation following the end of the season, though it’s not as if the game was ever far from his mind.
“I don’t think you learn a ton,” he said of the combine, “but I think you can glean a few things about different guys and watching their work and seeing if they’ve improved, see their bodies as they come in, and conditioning is such a big factor at this time.”
Said Stevens, “The best part is the interviews. That’s my own personal opinion.
“You know a lot about these guys as players and we’ve seen them play. Our staff has seen them play over and over, so the basketball stuff is good, but there’s not as much that’s unknown out here right now. But getting in those rooms and interviewing, I think it’s good, even if you only get 30 minutes.”
“I think what you’re trying to figure out are very similar things: What makes that person tick, why do they play the game. How do they see themselves fitting into the NBA,” he said.
The Celtics have interviewed or have scheduled to interview the following players:
UCLA guard/forward Kyle Anderson, Australian guard Dante Exum, Michigan State guard Gary Harris, Duke forward Rodney Hood, UCLA guard Zach LaVine, Kentucky forward Julius Randle, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, Michigan guard Nik Stauskas, Indiana forward Noah Vonleh, and N.C. State forward T.J. Warren.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has said the Celtics need to add “rim protection,” i.e. a post player.
“Well, we won 25 games [last season], so we’ve got to get better in a lot of ways,” Stevens said. “Getting better, it may be personnel moves, but it’s also our current players getting better.”
He added, “This offseason is big for the guys that are still there. And then it’s big for us to try to target guys, maybe rim protection is one [area], but I think we’ll continue to target basketball players, guys that can make plays with the ball, can shoot the ball, that kind of thing.”
Stevens said he’ll be involved in individual workouts later this month when the Celtics invite prospects to Boston, but he also has concentrated on the players the Celtics already have on their roster. Stevens addressed his postseason assessments of the team, which forward Jared Sullinger described as “really honest.”
“I thought we were just real,” Stevens said. “I don’t think it was anything — it’s what an end of the year should be, whether you had a good year or bad year. You move on and you try to get better from whatever just happened and figure out what really happened and wrap our arms around that.”
Stevens also is looking forward to late September, when the Celtics will gather before training camp next season.
“You can’t do much, you can do some, but you don’t know exactly who is on the roster and how that all fits,” he said. “But you get an idea, and we’ve already started planning for workouts with our guys when they return. We’ve already started planning for what we’re going to do with the summer league team. It should be good.”
In the meantime, Stevens plans to return his entire coaching staff for next season, unless one of them receives a better opportunity elsewhere.
“I’ve always been one that if you get a great opportunity, I want you to do that,” he said.
During his downtime, Stevens said he has been watching plenty of NBA playoff basketball — unless the Bruins were on.
“This is funny, how much we’ve transitioned to Boston,” he said. “The other day, we were watching the Bruins play. We were skipping the NBA playoffs for a night, or at least until the Bruins game was over. We really got into that. That’s the first time my kids have ever watched hockey. It was fun for all of us.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.