The complexion of the Celtics coaching search has changed considerably since Danny Ainge resigned and Brad Stevens was named president of basketball operations.
Since then, coaching jobs have opened up in Washington, Orlando, New Orleans, Portland, Indiana and most recently Dallas.
The Dallas situation may add a wrinkle as former Celtic Rick Carlisle walked away from the Mavericks after 13 seasons and could become an immediate candidate in Boston. That’s if Stevens wants to hire a retread coach — although one with an NBA title — who is 61 years old and with a reputation for being a disciplinarian.
If Stevens hired Carlisle he would basically be admitting that the Celtics needed a better on-court coach and not a more diverse voice or a coach who could better relate to his players. Stevens is taking his time but it’s a tricky process because while the candidate pool is large, so are available jobs with teams that may be aggressive to hire the top prospects.
A candidate for several jobs is former Celtic Chauncey Billups, an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers who also emerged as a priority for the Trail Blazers and Pelicans. It is not known if Billups has officially interviewed with the Celtics but he is interested in the position.
Stevens has a couple of choices: he could continue to take his time and risk losing his top candidates because they were scooped up by other teams or he could continue to monitor Carlisle’s interest as well as that of Atlanta coach Nate McMillan, who is not signed past this season despite leading the Hawks to a game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Billups is receiving endorsements from his contemporaries, past and present.
“Chauncey’s situation, he’s an assistant coach, he’s learning,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s come a long way from last summer to now. He’s put the work in. He’s going to have a chance to go to a team with a fresh start, having his own blueprint on the team, what he expects, what he wants.
“As far as being a coach, just his poise, I think he relates to the players. Him being able to communicate and being able to teach PG (Paul George) at the point guard position how to make plays, what he’s looking for in different situations, and he’s been working with PG all year. So the work he’s put in and to see what he’s done now and how he’s developed is great to see. He’s definitely ready.”
Lue credits Billups with the improvement of George, who was named to the All-NBA third team after a difficult 2019-20 season.
“Just seeing him on the floor coaching a 5-on-5 game, steadily improved and he’s done a great job,” Lue said. “Just his poise, he’s able to hold guys accountable and the things he’s done for PG this year has been great, reading pick-and-roll situations, what pass to make, what he’s looking for, what reads, and through the season, PG has gotten better and better. ”
Billups was Larry Brown’s starting point guard on the 2004 Detroit Pistons championship team that is considered one of the best defensive teams of the era. Brown, who also coached Celtics coaching candidate Darvin Ham, said Billups has an outstanding basketball acumen and is ready to be a head coach.
“I’ll stand up for any of my guys and Chauncey Billups is as good of a person as I’ve ever coached,” Brown said. “He’s as bright as anybody I’ve ever been around. I think the fact that he wanted to sit on the bench next to Ty Lue, to me meant a lot because I don’t think, I know a lot of guys have gone into (coaching) the first time (without being an assistant) and done it well, I think it’s really, really critical if you really want to grow to be able to sit on the bench and learn. That showed me a lot about Chauncey and his ego that he would accept that position.”
Brown said Billups told him he learned a great deal about coaching during this past season and the experience would give him a great “head start” to his first head coaching job.
“I don’t doubt his ability at all,” Brown said. “I think he’s going to be amazing. I just think it’s so important that whoever Boston hires has an believable connection with Brad. I think that trumps everything. And I don’t think any one of those names I mentioned (Billups, Ham, Jerome Allen) wouldn’t be guys that Brad wouldn’t be comfortable with. I know Brad and I know his values and I think those guys’ values fit right in with him and the Celtics. I have such feelings for that franchise and the way they’ve done things.”
“It’s so important for the NBA that Boston is good.”
Billups, 44, has been retired for seven years and could have delved into coaching immediately. Instead, he spent time as a television analyst and talked with the Cleveland Cavaliers about a possible general manager position before joining the Clippers. Lue said he jokes with Billups that he could have already been deep into his first coaching job, perhaps already with a title.
“Well, I think our whole — my vision, because I was close with him when I was in Cleveland and he just didn’t want to coach,” Lue said. “He wanted to be in the front office and making those decisions. I wanted him in Cleveland a long time ago. I tease him all the time; I tell him he missed out on $15, $18 million because he would have been a head coach for three to four years by now.”