Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens on Thursday spoke with the Globe about the team’s frustrating start, his assessment of first-year coach Ime Udoka, and how he will approach next month’s trade deadline. But the conversation veered in other directions, too, so here are some leftover nuggets:
▪ After Danny Ainge retired as the Celtics’ president of basketball operations last summer and was replaced by Stevens, Ainge said he intended to remain around the franchise and offered to be a sounding board for Stevens. The two spoke frequently over the past few months, but two weeks ago Ainge was named the alternate governor and CEO of the Jazz.
Stevens, who spoke to Ainge the day after he took the Utah job, said that he was not surprised by the move, especially considering Ainge’s close friendship with Jazz owner Ryan Smith.
“I know he’d been going all over the world golfing with Ryan and I know how tight they are, and what a good and logical resource Danny would be for them,” Stevens said. “I think the way he described his new role to me, he’s excited about it. At the same time, one of his great strengths is everybody around him will feel really empowered to do their jobs well.”
Obviously, the dynamic between Ainge and Stevens will be different, because they are technically competitors. But Stevens does not expect their line of communication to be cut off.
“I don’t know what his daily routine is like, but we stay in pretty regular touch,” Stevens said. “Most of the time, it’s about kids and grandkids.”
▪ Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have essentially had a year and a half as the undisputed cornerstones of this team, and the Celtics’ record is just under .500 over that time. This season both have career-low field goal percentages, Brown at 44.1 and Tatum at 41.7.
But Stevens pointed out that the Celtics’ roster has been crushed by COVID-19 absences and injuries, and he added that Brown has missed 14 games because of a hamstring issue. Stevens is not concerned about their progress.
“First and foremost, it’s hard to over-scrutinize or overthink it,” he said. “I’ve seen great things from both of them. We know how talented they are. We know what they’re capable of, and we’ve seen that over and over. I’d like to see us get full so we have a chance to truly evaluate that, but sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t.”
▪ Stevens said he is generally pleased with the development of the team’s younger players, and he said that third-year forward Grant Williams “has taken his biggest leap.” Williams has been a reliable and sturdy defender, and he has made 45.3 percent of his 3-pointers, best on the team.
“I think his rookie year he did some good things, but in typical rookie year fashion I think sometimes the good things you do get really, really hyped and the other things you do get pushed to the side,” Stevens said. “Last year was a bit more of a struggle and more inconsistent, but I think he’s been really good for us this year. And I give him a lot of credit. He was in the gym all summer here. He worked hard.
“I’ve seen that time and again, when guys do that, they take that next step. Grant’s thing is if you can figure out what you do best in this league and how you can best impact winning, and you just get really good at it, you have a great career. I think he’s starting to figure that out.”
▪ With their roster decimated by COVID-19-related absences, the Celtics signed five players to 10-day contracts using hardship exceptions over the last two weeks. Rather than essentially getting free training camp-level looks at young players who could become future options, Stevens went with more established veterans, with 26-year-old Justin Jackson the youngest of the bunch.
Stevens said that approach was based partly on the fact that some of the top young available prospects had already been scooped up by other teams, but he added that the Celtics had previous interest in several of their signings, including 40-year-old Joe Johnson and 34-year-old C.J. Miles.
“Danny has walked into my office each of the last two years at different times and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about bringing Joe Johnson on?’ ” Stevens said. “So we were very much in that discussion several times over the last couple of years. I think we were in that discussion during the COVID time last year and then you just keep watching him play in the Big3 and he just keeps dominating it.”
Stevens said that Miles impressed Boston’s brass when he was brought in for a workout last summer.
“I thought he was really in great shape,” Stevens said. “He looked like he was ready to come back.”
But Miles and Jackson ended up in COVID-19 protocols and their 10-day contracts have expired.
▪ The Celtics have been outscored by 9.6 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, ranking 29th in the NBA. Stevens said it is not too late to fix the issue.
“I’ve been a part of years where we struggled in those moments early and then honed our focus and got really good as the season went on,” he said. “I’ve been part of years where you pull a few out because of luck. I’ve been part of years where you really get a confidence built from winning a couple of those games. And I do think that’s the deal. You have to maximize every possession. You have to play to the best of your ability collectively, and you have to do your best to take the luck out.”