Looking to the future, Celtics go boldly in hiring Stevens
BOSTON — The Boston Celtics' summer makeover got an unexpected twist and a boyish new look Wednesday when the team named Brad Stevens, the 36-year-old wunderkind from Butler University, as its new coach.
The hiring was a stunner. Stevens' name had not surfaced on any list of rumored candidates in the nine days since the Celtics parted ways with Doc Rivers. He will be the NBA's youngest head coach — five months younger than Kevin Garnett, the star forward the Celtics are trading to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a full-scale rebuilding campaign.
Stevens, who has never coached in the NBA, earned fame and widespread acclaim after leading Butler, a midmajor, to back-to-back NCAA title games in 2010 and 2011. Butler lost both times, to Duke and Connecticut, but Stevens' reputation was established.
Danny Ainge, the Celtics' team president who is known for his unconventional thinking, was apparently among Stevens' legion of fans.
"Brad and I share a lot of the same values," Ainge said in a statement. "Though he is young, I see Brad as a great leader who leads with impeccable character and a strong work ethic. His teams always play hard and execute on both ends of the court. Brad is a coach who has already enjoyed lots of success, and I look forward to working with him toward Banner 18."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but The Boston Herald, citing unnamed sources, said Stevens signed a six-year contract — an unusually long commitment in today's NBA, where coaches are tossed aside frequently. Most coaching contracts cover three to four years.
The contract length is as much an indication of the Celtics' long-term rebuilding campaign as it is a reflection of faith in Stevens.
Last Thursday, Ainge agreed to a blockbuster trade that will send Garnett and Paul Pierce — the heart of the Celtics' 2008 title team — to the Nets in exchange for a bounty of role players and draft picks. That deal came just two days after Rivers left the Celtics to coach the Los Angeles Clippers. The Celtics received a first-round draft pick for freeing Rivers from the final two years of his contract, a deal that heralded the transition to a new era.
Once the Garnett-Pierce trade is completed July 12, only Rajon Rondo will remain from the Celtics' last championship team. The roster surrounding him will be a collection of role players, spare parts and unproven prospects — now including a rookie head coach.
"Our family is thrilled for the opportunity given to us by the leadership of the Boston Celtics, but it is emotional to leave a place that we have called home for the past 13 years," Stevens said in a statement released by Butler.
He will be introduced as the Celtics' 17th head coach at a news conference Friday.
Stevens had a contract that ran through 2021-22, a reward for his incredible run through the NCAA tournament in 2010, and a gesture that was designed to keep him from getting poached by a bigger program. No one could have anticipated then that the biggest threat would come from one of the NBA's most storied franchises.
"We have done everything we can to keep Brad here at Butler," the university president, James M. Danko, said in a statement. "However, the Celtics team has offered Brad and his family a unique opportunity with which no university can compete."
Stevens was known in college basketball circles as a boy wonder who quit a marketing job at Eli Lilly and latched on at Butler as a volunteer, in 2000. He is a strong adherent of advanced statistics, making him a perfect fit with the Celtics organization, which was an early adopter.
Stevens won 166 games at Butler, the most ever by a Division I coach in his first six seasons. His teams never won fewer than 22 games and made the tournament every season, going 12-5. In 2010, he became the youngest coach to lead a team into the Final Four since Bobby Knight in 1973.
Of the 12 head coaches hired across the NBA this offseason, eight will be first-timers. But the other 11 all have NBA bench experience, and Stevens will be trying to break a longstanding trend of college coaches who have failed on the main stage. That list includes Rick Pitino, who flamed out with the Celtics in the late 1990s.