WALTHAM — Although Brad Stevens will soon enter his fourth season with the Celtics, he has maintained a strong connection to Butler University, where he was head coach for six seasons before coming to Boston.
In each of the past three summers, some of Stevens’s former Butler players have taken part in predraft workouts with the Celtics. On Monday, guards Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham — members of the final Butler class Stevens guided — had one more session with their former coach.
“I think that’s a good statement for the program, that it’s been really good,” Stevens said. “But that was long before I got there and will be the case long after I’ve left. It’s a fun thing for me to follow, and it’s even more fun to see them up close, wearing the Celtics gear and everything else as they compete against each other.”
Both players arrived in Boston Sunday, so Stevens visited with them before the focus shifted to their workouts. Dunham said that Stevens sent text messages to him and Jones after big games this year, as well as to congratulate them on their recent graduation.
“It was really emotional [when he left to coach the Celtics], to be quite honest,” Dunham said. “We bonded close with each other. He cared about us. He held us accountable. He pushed us in every way you can push a kid.”
Stevens has drawn raves in the NBA for his brilliance as a tactician, diagramming plays that seem to result in open opportunities more often than not. Jones, for one, said that is nothing new.
“Same way,” he said. “It’ll be a couple seconds, the horn’s blowing, Coach Stevens tells you to wait. He draws something up. Go out there, I’ll be like, ‘What?’
“Then we go out there and run it, and it’s wide open for a layup or a dunk. So it just shows you how smart he is on the court, and how he sees things.”
The Celtics have eight picks in the June 23 draft, so it remains extremely likely that they will complete some trades. But director of player personnel Austin Ainge said trade talks have been predictably quiet, adding that sometimes the negotiations can be romanticized. “The media reports trade conversations like we sit and talk for four hours straight and try to convince the other team to do it,” Ainge said. “It’s more like you sit next to a guy in the gym and say, ‘Hey, how are you guys doing? What are you looking to do this summer? OK. Well, we might have some interest in something around there. Let’s talk in a few weeks.’ And then you have a five-minute conversation a month later. It’s a bunch of small, little conversations. It’s not usually one big negotiation.”
Stevens had high praise for guard Avery Bradley’s recent All-Defensive first team selection. “I think it was clearly deserved,” the coach said. “I think that you could make a strong case for him to be Defensive Player of the Year or in consideration for that, because he is so versatile in his ability to defend guards. And I think if you polled the guards in the NBA, really 1 through 3, Avery’s name would come up a lot.” Bradley was the top vote-getter among guards.
Stevens said he communicated with Bradley to congratulate him on his honor, but he did not have a concrete update on the guard’s progression from a hamstring strain he suffered in Game 1 of Boston’s first-round playoff loss to the Hawks. “He’s getting better,” Stevens said.
Former Kansas forward Perry Ellis was among the group of 12 players to attend Monday’s workout sessions. Ellis wore No. 34 when he played for the Jayhawks, but he said it was not an ode to Kansas legend Paul Pierce.
“I had it when I was a young kid,” Ellis said. “I used to like Shaq growing up as a little kid, so I think that’s how that kind of came about. But, I mean, it definitely was an honor [Pierce] had that number before, too. I tried to rep it well.”
The others to work out for Boston Monday were Isaia Cordinier (France), Nick Faust (Long Beach State), Pascal Siakam (New Mexico State), Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa), Guerschon Yabusele (France), Hunter Mickelson (Kansas), Dyshawn Pierre (Dayton), Tanner Plomb (Army), and Jordan Sakho (Spain)
Going to school
The Celtics will face the 76ers in a preseason game at the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. The teams are also scheduled to face each other in the first game of the Utah Jazz summer league next month. Philadelphia holds the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.