When Brad Stevens signed his six-year contract in July 2013, the $3.666 million per season he earned as a first-time NBA coach was considered beyond gracious.
That was no longer the case in 2016. After he led the Celtics to consecutive playoff appearances, emerged as a top-10 coach, and then watched as first-timer Luke Walton signed a $5 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers and recently fired Scott Brooks got $7 million from the Washington Wizards, Stevens was due his just reward.
Despite three years left on Stevens’s deal, the Celtics extended their bright, young coach.
Wednesday’s announcement of extensions for Stevens and team president Danny Ainge was welcome news to Celtics faithful and an indication Stevens plans to stick around despite the rumblings at Indiana and Duke.
And don’t think Pacers president Larry Bird didn’t consider Stevens when he created a coaching opening by firing Frank Vogel. Stevens is a wanted coach, and the fact he quickly committed long term to Boston definitely serves as a lure to free agents who want to play for an emerging coach.
With a handful of new coaches signing lucrative contracts, Stevens’s status as coach was becoming a growing issue. While Stevens downplayed his salary, it does serve as a sign of respect for coaches and Stevens needed more respect than being paid slightly more than Alvin Gentry.
“I guess I was kind of surprised,” Stevens said. “But I think that it again tells you the way they think and the way they value people around here. And that’s why you enjoy working here. I’m not big into negotiations. We were flattered to be asked to do that and it provides good stability for our family. I understand that these things change in coaching but ultimately we’re excited to be offered that opportunity.”
The fact is, however, this season ended in disappointing fashion. The Celtics spent a chunk of the season as the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, wanted to win a playoff round, and yet were soundly disposed of in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks, who went on to get swept soundly by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Stevens has to accept part – if not most – of the responsibility for their late-season doldrums. But there were also personnel issues. The Celtics needed shooting. They needed another reliable scorer. They needed a rim protector.
But Ainge first needed to secure the long-term status of Stevens, because behind the scenes he will serve as a hard recruiter for free agents.
“Obviously when you finish a year that was a good year but it ends on a sour note, which it does for everybody but the ultimate last team standing, it means a lot that people believe in the direction you’re headed from the small role that you play,” Stevens said. “I look at mine as a role within this organization that I have to do well or try to do my best every day to try to help move this thing forward. It felt very empowering, but I’ve felt very empowered every day since I’ve been here.
“And I will say this, we talked for a long time before I came here and that was a big part of it,” Stevens added. “I felt really strongly that this place valued continuity, that we all understood the process to being great is a process and it’s a day-to-day thing and it’s a grind and there are good days and bad days and then you kind of have to stick together regardless.
“And these guys had proven that with their ownership and management long before I got here, and so that was something that I knew coming in that has certainly been validated daily since I’ve been here.”
Consider Stevens hardly satisfied with the accomplishments of last season. And he is working feverishly not only to upgrade the team’s roster but improve as a coach and shore up his on-court decisions. The Celtics didn’t have to extend or upgrade the contract of Brad Stevens. They could have taken a wait-and-see approach, allowed Ainge to improve the roster this summer, and then allowed Stevens to prove himself.
But obviously he’s done enough in his first three years to become worthy of long-term status here in Boston. And it was a necessary move because outsiders were closely monitoring whether he would receive the type of security that prevent other coaching offers.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.