The Brad Stevens Honeymoon Has Crashed and Burned

Last year, when Brad Stevens didn’t receive a single vote for the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year award, an honor voted on by coaches, it was predictably easy to say he was the victim of jealousy. Stevens fast rise into coaching stardom has ruffled a few feathers.

Last season was a brilliant Stevens coaching job after losing Gordon Hayward and then losing Kyrie Irving. The Celtics are a team put together in the draft and those picks rose up to the occasion in the playoffs, further cementing a legacy of Stevens as the Most Valuable Person on the team.

In a short amount of time, Stevens has been able to do what other young coaches have not. Develop young talent, get them to perform, and achieve in pressure situations while playing for an iconic franchise. It made sense to all with clear eyesight that the Celtics had crossed the vaunted hurdle from rebuilding to contending and all because Danny Ainge had the foresight to jettison his aged veterans, say goodbye to Doc Rivers, and yank Brad Stevens out of Butler University.

But the reality of what goes up must come down has dropped the Celtics into icy waters of not that great. Before, the only problem with the Celtics was LeBron was in the conference and he intimidated everyone. LeBron out of the conference opened up the path. Or, so the Celtics, still in their Brad Stevens honeymoon, thought.

What it looks like now is that the LeBron excuse overshadowed a lot of issues that Brad Stevens, the so called genius, has yet to solve.

The Celtics are not playing like contenders. They lose too many games they should win. They don’t play as if they are connected but rather a venal iteration of Kyrie Irving and everyone else. Gordon Hayward, their max player, looks like he is still not totally right, and he might need another year, or (gulp), this may be the Hayward thing and then the Celtics are stuck with him and his $34 million player option in 2020-21.

The Celtics are an average scoring team, an average rebounding team, a great defensive team. That’s not good enough and neither is Brad Stevens coaching because by year three a team tends to tune out a lot of what the coach has to say.

The Celtics are a perfect example of how an expiring contract of a great player can change the season. Kyrie doesn’t look happy on many a night which makes the armchair psychics think he’s done in Boston. The real problem is if his teammates think the very same thing- he has annoyed them during the season and at different junctures. The C’s are going to find it hard to fight through the East which is amazingly competitive at the top with Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. The East has returned to be more interesting than the West and that has not happened since before LeBron was drafted.

Brad Stevens was the recipient of too much praise too early in his career. He was young and seemed to fit in seamlessly. But he is still young and so are his players, not to mention Kyrie Irving isn’t the easiest of teammates to coach, lacking leadership ability but wanting to win with an elephant sized hunger.

Stevens was never as great as he was made out to be and he is better than a run of the mill coach who is treading water (think Luke Walton). He’s good. But his roster is not there; it makes the lust for Anthony Davis even that more extreme.

But because Brad Stevens was coronated as the best thing on the Celtics, even better than the players, now he has to take his lumps and fall from the rooftops the media put him on. Like every single NBA coach, he is just as good as his players. Like few NBA coaches, he is expert in after time out plays. He will live or die with Kyrie Irving. He is being scrutinized this year worse than Scottie Brooks of the Wizards whose team has underachieved from the jump.

Brad Stevens has earned his reputation and its that reputation that is triggering the criticism. He is that great player that has gone into a funk. He doesn’t deserve being compared to the “old” Brad Stevens every five seconds. He is that same person. Except Gordon Hayward is a shell. And Kyrie is more often sullen and brooding then he is inspiring. And the East is better. There isn’t time for an identity crises.

The Celtics are firmly in the 5th seed. They can move up to the 3rd seed if they get it together and put a quick run on before the season ends in 6 weeks. Or, they can stay where they are and probably play the Pacers in the 1st round.  They have split the two games they have played with Indy and have two left on each other’s home floor. Without Oladipo, the chances for the Celtics appear pretty good. The Celtics have the best player in the series. But the way things are going this year it looks like Brad Stevens the genius will have to defend his reputation in a tough Eastern Conference playoffs.

Unlike seasons past, Stevens will no longer get a pass for the team’s performance. If he is truly the MVP of the Celtics, anything short of a Finals trip will be a Stevens failure and will cause many to grumble he is not who we thought he was.