Let’s speak facts.
The Celtics are down 3-1 in the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bucks. The team has been dysfunctional since Day 1 and that assessment is just based on the inconsistent play, many dramas and public feuds that fans happen to know about.
Kyrie Irving has gotten most of the heat. He’s been the most criticized target of the fans and media. Despite having won an NBA championship as a sidekick, the common narrative is that he’s a selfish ball-stopper whose self-absorbed style hinders the team.
He’s supposedly not a “leader.”
Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman debate who is most to blame for the Boston Celtics’ struggles in the 2018-19 season. Max says that Kyrie is to blame and that he needs to step up his level of leadership if he wants to make the Celtics a championship team. Stephen A.
Another common narrative is that “the young guys” won’t humble themselves enough for the team to reach its full potential.
Some people are even blaming the Knicks.
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The only person not getting blasted is head coach Brad Stevens, but he’s the guy that should be receiving the brunt of the criticism. He’s been called out here and there, but he’s been virtually absolved of any blame.
It was just last season that NBA GM’s named Stevens the best coach in the entire league. He was touted as an elite basketball mind. The master motivator, having led unheralded Butler to two straight NCAA Finals as a college coaching prodigy.
The Celtics’ improbable 2018 run to the Conference Finals, despite missing their two free agent superstars, only raised the league’s lofty opinion of Stevens’ coaching acumen. He was lauded for the Celtics’ success and more than a few sports talking heads anointed him as the next Gregg Popovich.
Stevens took the Celtics from a 25-win team in his first season (2013-14) to a 55-win team and Eastern Conference Finals runner-up. He didn’t wave a magic wand to achieve that success. Shrewd executive maneuvering by President Danny Ainge helped the Celtics acquire first-round draft picks and prime free agents that strengthened the team and elevated them to contenders.
Known as a coach who consistently wills mediocre rosters beyond their collective talent, Stevens is no longer wheeling and dealing with bums. He probably has the most talented team in the NBA, but the defensive grit left months ago and Stevens’ play-calling genius is definitely clashing with Irving’s playground potency.
Still ringless, but carrying the respect of a championship coach, this 2018-19 campaign was supposed to be the final test of Stevens’ elite abilities. Most basketball heads predicted a signature season in Ainge’s latest rebuild — if Stevens could manage the talent right.
Instead, Stevens has been somewhat exposed.
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Being a great coach is more than just constructing an offense or defensive game plan. It’s having the full respect of your team, making tough decisions and communicating properly so everyone understands and accepts their roles. A great coach should be in control of the locker room and create a culture where players are supportive of each other and not airing dirty laundry in the press. Throwing teammates under the bus is usually a characteristic of a losing team.
Unfortunately, Stevens has failed in many of those non-basketball areas. And he’s gotten embarrassingly outcoached by Milwaukee Bucks sideline stalker Mike Budenholzer so far in these playoffs. Stevens hasn’t made the proper adjustments all season long and his inability to manage Boston’s talent and egos is rearing its ugly head.
Back in February, when the Celtics were struggling to find some cohesiveness, Stevens admirably accepted the blame for the team’s struggles. He gets the OG dap for that. It showed an attempt at leadership. However, according to die-hard Celtics insiders, Stevens can do no wrong in the eyes of Boston brass, most fans, and media. So he never gets held accountable when things go wrong.
“…He’s the least, by far, of anybody that there is to blame,” Ainge said of Stevens back in February.
“Because I know that Brad is going to be prepared, and I know that Brad is putting in the work to do whatever he can to try to help this team and fix this team. So, that is the very bottom of the rung…
“I know that he takes more responsibility than anybody, in my opinion, as to the success and lack of success,” Ainge added. “He takes ownership in the things he needs to do better.
“Anyway, he’s the least of all the problems that we have on our team right now.”
You knew the Celtics weren’t right back then. When the President has to throw subliminal shots at the players in order to bail out the head coach, that’s also a sign of dysfunction. Stevens has a heck of a work ethic, but it’s no better than Kyrie Irving, Al Horford or Marcus Smart’s grind.
The Celtics were loaded entering the season. All Stevens had to do was figure out how to take the most talented roster in the game and mesh it into a champion. You can’t feel sorry for him. That’s every coach’s dream and he’s supposed to be “that guy.”
What more does he want?
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Say what you will about the regression of Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown, the selfishness of Irving and the ineffectiveness of Gordon Hayward, but Stevens has to carry most of the blame for this underachieving season.
Going forward, he has to find a way to turn the series around. Boston has the talent to do it. This is Stevens’ moment of truth. Now is the time to live up to his billing as a genius.