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Each time a first-time coach gets fired, such as the case Monday when the New York Knicks canned Derek Fisher after a 23-31 record, Celtics fans should feel grateful Danny Ainge scored with Brad Stevens.

The Celtics president of basketball operations went with a whim and chased the Butler coach when Doc Rivers decided to depart for the Clippers in the summer of 2013. The whim has worked masterfully as the soaring Celtics get set to face Milwaukee on Tuesday at the BMO Bradley Center.

The Celtics are nine games over .500 — the highest of the Stevens era — and own third place in the Eastern Conference, meaning the last 29 games are about trying to clinch a home playoff series.


While Celtics fans are pining for championship runs and a return to glory, they also should take note of other NBA situations and understand that coaching jobs are precarious.

Look at Phoenix, where Ainge protégé Ryan McDonough, son of the great Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough, took over the general manager's job and then was wowed by former guard Jeff Hornacek in the interview process. Hornacek was astute, a tough-minded player who seemed to be the prototype for their head coach.

McDonough fired Hornacek two weeks ago after two-plus seasons. The Suns were besieged by injuries but eventually tuned out Hornacek, and he ultimately received the blame.

In Cleveland, management didn't like the indifferent tone of the locker room and David Blatt never quite bonded with LeBron James, so general manager David Griffin fired him and hired another neophyte, Tyronn Lue. Blatt coached the Cavaliers to a 30-11 record and his hiring was regarded as a coup because of his international success.

There were instances in Blatt's 1½ seasons in which he was overwhelmed.

Fisher appeared polished and professional enough to handle the unusual player-to-coach transition that Jason Kidd made a few years ago in Brooklyn. It helped that Fisher was an understudy of New York president Phil Jackson and would run Jackson's preferred "Triangle" offense.


But Fisher's passiveness, and the bizarre incident in Los Angeles when Fisher got into an altercation with Memphis player Matt Barnes, who raced to his estranged wife's house when he found out Fisher was there.

Fisher took time off during training camp to travel from Westchester County, N.Y., to Los Angeles to visit his children. Instead, he got into a rumble with Barnes and missed a day of camp. Jackson did not attribute that to Fisher's firing but it didn't help, and served as an embarrassment for an organization trying to regain respect after years of losing.

NBA general managers desperately are trying to find the right recipe for a head coach. Chicago took the Celtics approach and hired Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, who said Stevens's success was connected to his opportunity.

Hoiberg has experienced an inconsistent first season with the championship-aspiring Bulls sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 27-23 record.

Stevens has drawn raves from NBA coaches for his ability to consistently get his players to play hard.

Inducing millionaires to give 100 percent is an exquisite trait. Just ask Sacramento coach George Karl, who has a roster of DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Ben McLemore.

"I think NBA players play hard, it's the teams that have the talent to play harder than their opponent is what I think Boston has," Karl said. "In a 48-minute game it's not dominant, but they have those five-minute moments, 15-possession moments where their energy is very much substantially stronger than their opponent."


"They're a defensive team that creates turnovers, something that comes because they're young kids fighting for minutes.

"Coach Stevens does a great job of picking and pushing buttons to make everybody kind of stay highly motivated. I'll tell you what; I think they have a chance [in the playoffs] against Cleveland."

There was a reason Ainge signed Stevens to a six-year deal. He wanted the young coach to work on rebuilding the Celtics in a stable environment. Management actually did not think it would take only one year to reach the playoffs and two to emerge as an Eastern Conference power without a legitimate superstar — although Isaiah Thomas is approaching that level.

Ainge took a calculated risk in Stevens but watched as the coach built mid-major Butler into a power without elite talent. He's essentially done the same thing in Boston with the proper temperament and approach, and that basketball acumen along with fortitude is difficult to find, just check out the situations in Phoenix, New York, and Cleveland.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.