The Celtics’ job spoke volumes to Brad Stevens, so much so that the comfortable head coach at Butler University was wowed by the opportunity, surprised that Danny Ainge called him before the June 27 draft to gauge his interest.
Publicly, Ainge had this to say about the coaching search as late as Monday, when the team introduced draft picks Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson: “No, [we have done nothing]. We’ve had some other things going on [in terms of trades]. Hey, any NBA job [is popular]. There are only 30 NBA head coaching jobs available and there’s a lot of coaches out of work out there, and a lot of good coaches, I might add. I don’t feel any pressure or any rush to go through that process.”
The hiring of Stevens was announced two days later.
Back to Monday, when Ainge continued to camouflage how far the search had progressed.
“We have enough coaches around to work out our players and there’s just no urgency at all on that, so we’ll just take our time,” he said. “I have an idea of what I want, but coaches are like players, everybody’s looking for Michael Jordan. But there’s coaches with all different types of strengths and weaknesses, but I’m looking at all the different candidates out there that are available and some guys that aren’t, that aren’t necessarily available that are working other places that I’ll also consider.”
By this time Ainge already had been in touch with Stevens, and Ainge soon flew to Indianapolis to negotiate the six-year, $22 million deal for the 36-year-old, who took Butler to consecutive NCAA Tournament championship games.
Ainge said his intent was to keep his pursuit of Stevens a secret, even if that meant “stretching the truth.”
“First of all, I never leak stories, as you guys all know,” Ainge said. “They try to get me to leak stories. You have to find another source if you want stories leaked. And this was very tight-lipped. As a matter of fact, I was very careful who I shared any information with because of the sensitivity of Brad. I could only see this deal blowing up because if he was going to come to the Celtics, he had to do it the right way. It was crucial, I think, in the process. If things had gotten out or leaked, it could have very easily blown the situation. I think that’s the case with trades and coaching signings and everything that goes on in our business, it’s bad that it gets leaked out. That’s why I don’t do that.”
Stevens’s privacy had to be protected because it was such a difficult decision for him to leave Butler. He had been there for 13 years (six as the head coach), was prepared to start the school’s first season in the Big East, and if he wanted to leave, he would have done it earlier and allowed his associate head coach, Matthew Graves, to take the position. But Graves left in March to be the head coach at South Alabama.
“This was the right thing for us and the right thing for our family,” Stevens said. “And like anything else, it certainly was emotional. But we’ve done our best to really move forward, to make sure I’m as ready as I possibly can be. It’s hard because home was Indy and has been Indy for a better part of my life. We won’t lose any of our passion for Indy or any of our passion for Butler.”
That passion is what made the interview process so delicate for Ainge. Usually, teams are open with their coaching searches and the list of candidates, but the Celtics never brought Stevens to Boston before he was hired, instead sending their contingent to Indianapolis.
“It’s awfully comfortable there,” said NBA play-by-play man Kevin Calabro, a Butler alumnus. “Folks buy in, they are great supporters there, they’ve got a hard-core group of fans there in Indianapolis and have always supported the basketball program. You kind of operate there in your own, nice, comfortable bubble. What will be most interesting to watch as a Celtic fan is how does he deal with the media and how doesn’t he deal with unreal expectations.
“He’s got to be accountable at all times and accessible on a daily basis, even if folks realize it’s a young group. He absolutely knows that and it’s a great test for him.”
THE WINNER IS . . .
One year later, Magic reborn
The Orlando Magic were lambasted after trading Dwight Howard to the Lakers in a four-team deal last year, especially since they didn’t accept a deal for Andrew Bynum. Well, those who heavily criticized neophyte general manager Rob Hennigan for not getting back enough assets for Howard are now regretting their statements.
The Magic were able to acquire Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, a 2013 second-round pick (Oklahoma’s Romero Osby), a 2017 first-round pick from the Lakers, and 2014 first-round picks from the 76ers and Nuggets.
The 76ers ended up with sand out of the deal. Bynum never played a game because of knee troubles and Jason Richardson played a half-season before shutting it down with knee surgery. The Lakers are not only losing Howard, but they dumped Chris Duhon while Earl Clark slipped out of town, signing a two-year deal with the Cavaliers.
Denver just lost Andre Iguodala to the Warriors in free agency, leaving the Magic as the big winners. What the Magic need to decide next season is whether they continue to develop with their younger core that includes rookies Victor Oladipo and Osby, and attempt to return to the lottery for a premium 2014 pick, or use veterans such as Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Afflalo, and perhaps win more games. Turkoglu has one year left on his contract at $12 million, while Nelson, once cemented at point guard, has a team option for $8 million next season.
“I think we’ve done a decent job of establishing an identity and establishing a foundation for our team,” Hennigan said. “We’ve got a long way to go, and you can ask anybody and they’ll tell you that. We want to continue to maximize some pretty good things coming around the corner.”
THE INDECISION ENDS
Howard takes act to Houston
Well, Dwight Howard not only put the five teams bidding for his services but the Twitter public into a Friday nail-biting session by apparently deciding on the Houston Rockets, and then wavering on his decision before finally committing to the Rockets later that night. This was the moment GM Daryl Morey was waiting for, as he spent two years carving out space in his salary cap to offer a maximum four-year contract to Howard, lining him up with James Harden to perhaps become the main competitor to the Thunder in the Western Conference.
As for the Lakers, they are left with the potential decision to re-sign Andrew Bynum and scrape together a roster to compete this season. They have an aging team and GM Mitch Kupchak has to decide whether to use the amnesty clause on Pau Gasol or Metta World Peace in order to create space to pursue a younger player.
Here is the statement from Kupchak, who banked on Howard returning to Los Angeles: “We have been informed of Dwight’s decision to not return to the Lakers. Naturally, we’re disappointed. However, we will now move forward in a different direction with the future of the franchise and, as always, will do our best to build the best team possible, one our great Lakers fans will be proud to support. To Dwight, we thank him for his time and consideration, and for his efforts with us last season. We wish him the best of luck on the remainder of his NBA career.”
Also, Kupchak has to decide whether a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, perhaps for younger players, would be beneficial to the franchise, given it would provide Howard with another $30 million and fifth year on his contract. Houston has already traded Thomas Robinson to Portland but now has to dump the back-loaded contracts of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to clear enough space to potentially bring on Smith and another standout player.
Teams looking to be players
The Kings are attempting to make a splash, showing their fans they have full plans on winning immediately after receiving a reprieve from the NBA, which allowed them to remain in Sacramento. They decided to pursue Andre Iguodala before pulling the offer off the table, and subsequently acquired point guard Greivis Vasquez in a three-team deal for Tyreke Evans.
Fact is, Evans was never a good fit in Sacramento after his sparkling rookie season, and a change of scenery to New Orleans is probably best. Former Kings coach Keith Smart never quite knew what to do with Evans because he doesn’t have a true position. He was too erratic to be a point guard and too inconsistent for shooting guard.
The Kings had a load of cap space, about $17 million, which was enough to help them sign free agent Carl Landry, as well, for four years and at least $26 million. The Kings most certainly have received their share of calls from teams over the salary cap because they are able to accept expiring contracts with nothing but draft picks in return.
If the Celtics, for example, were looking to deal one of their younger, high-salaried veterans for picks, the Kings would be prime candidates. The Bobcats were supposed to be in a similar situation to the Kings, but they burned some cap space on former Celtic Al Jefferson, who signed a three-year, $40.5 million contract.
The signing was necessary because he becomes the first major free agent to come to Charlotte, but didn’t the Bobcats just draft Cody Zeller to be their power forward? It’s a testament to Michael Jordan’s desire to improve immediately while trying to develop potential cornerstones.
When the Bobcats were drafting fourth, Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel, and Alex Len were all available. Zeller was a Jordan pick after he impressed scouts at the combine with his outside shooting, so Jefferson will obviously have to play center, although he is more comfortable at power forward.
As for the Warriors, management wants to make an impact with the move to San Francisco in four years, and chasing Dwight Howard was no pipe dream. Co-owner Joe Lacob told the Globe that the new ownership group wants to compete for championships.
The Warriors have made enough astute draft picks and obtained enough assets to make deals to perhaps acquire a high-level free agent such as Howard. There was a reason Golden State carried the anchor-like contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Andrew Bogut, totaling $34 million.
Amazingly, with those salaries off the books next season, the Warriors will be an estimated $20 million under the salary cap because two of their key players — Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes — are under their rookie contracts. The Warriors, even without nabbing Howard, will be major free agent players in the coming years.
The Pistons also made a splash, landing Josh Smith for four years and $54 million. The veteran Hawks small forward scored a team-high 17.5 points last season and also averaged 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. There is a sense of urgency to compete in Detroit nearly 10 years after its last championship and the recent track record of general manager Joe Dumars being questioned.
The 76ers are the last NBA team without a coach and Spurs assistant Brett Brown could be a leading candidate after being passed up for the Celtics’ job landed by Brad Stevens. Heat assistant David Fizdale was supposed to interview with Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkle, but Hinkle has shown little urgency in hiring a coach. Also available is former Detroit coach Michael Curry, a 76ers assistant, and Houston assistant Kelvin Sampson . . . Former Celtic Glen Davis was working out on his surgically repaired left foot at his alma mater LSU, where he suffered a setback. Davis missed the final three months of the season with a fractured fifth metatarsal and has been working feverishly to return, but this latest tweak may cause him to take most of the summer off. Davis is entering the third year of a four-year, $26 million contract . . . Former Toronto coach Sam Mitchell and former NBA player and Boston College coach Al Skinner have expressed interest in a Celtics assistant coaching position. There is speculation that Stevens will hire one or two NBA-experienced coaches for his staff . . . The Bucks basically gave away improving swingman Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb for J.J. Redick at the trade deadline last season, a deal that would have only proved its worth had the Bucks re-signed Redick, who was an the impending free agent. Instead, they participated in a sign-and-trade with Redick, sending him to the Clippers in a three-team deal that netted Milwaukee two second-round draft picks. Harris led the Magic in scoring at 17.3 points in the 27 games he played with Orlando. Harris doesn’t turn 21 until July 15. Clippers coach Doc Rivers had long admired Redick, so much so that he had to stop himself from a potential tampering charge after lauding him following a Celtics victory over the Magic last season.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gwashNBAGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.