Stevens continues to impress others around NBA

Stevens continues to impress others around NBA
December 12, 2013, 12:00 pm

BOSTON — As we get deeper into this season, it's clear that Brad Stevens has screwed up most preseason predictions about the Boston Celtics.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were sent packing to Brooklyn.

Rajon Rondo has been reduced to being a well-dressed, eight-figure cheerleader as he continues to work his way back into shape from a torn right ACL injury.

The only true point guard that's healthy on the roster is Phil Pressey, an undrafted rookie.

And in came Stevens, the hottest college coach out there who took over arguably the most storied franchise in the NBA without having spent a minute inside an NBA huddle as a player, coach or assistant prior to taking the job.

It had all the makings of a bad team that wouldn't have to even try and tank games because they weren't going to be that good no matter how hard they tried.

And then we saw them play.

And then ... everything changed.

The outlook on this team, while not Indiana Pacer- or Miami Heat-rosey, is not nearly as bleak as once believed.

A season that began with questions centered around how bad they will be, are now shifting towards Boston as a potential playoff team.

And as much as the players deserve credit for the team's better-than-expected start, kudos have to be given to Stevens for the job he has done thus far.

Now he has not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

Jordan Crawford was the team's best option at the point throughout the entire preseason schedule, and yet Stevens didn't insert him into the first unit until after four games - all losses - had passed.

And in Wednesday night's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, size really did matter and Boston's biggest player - Vitor Faverani - played just five minutes which left Stevens second-guessing that decision just moments after the game ended.

"I should have played Vitor in the second half," Stevens admitted. "I'll be kicking myself for that."

But he has done far more positives with this bunch of ill-fitted pieces, than anyone could have imagined.

They opened the season by leading in the fourth quarter in each of their first eight games, establishing from the very beginning that they would compete until the bitter end.

That has become their foundation and because of that, they have positioned themselves to have a shot at winning all but a handful of games this season.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, jokes about wishing he could give Stevens an extension now on top of the six-year deal they inked him to in July.

Truth is, the 36-year-old rookie head coach has been that good both in terms of winning games but even more important, winning over his players.

And his work has not gone unnoticed by his fellow NBA coaches, either.

"He has those guys coming to play, play hard, every night," Portland head coach Terry Stotts told CSNNE.com when the Blazers were in town earlier this month.

Stevens' predecessor Doc Rivers, whose Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Celtics on Wednesday, also had high praise for Stevens.

"Brad's doing a terrific job," Rivers said. "They started out slow. They've been playing good basketball. I think what he's done a great job of is letting people know that this is not a re-build year. There may be rebuilding going on, but he has this team competing every night. They are one of the teams that they compete every night and they can beat anybody."

Stevens' respect for both the moment and the promise of future success, is a central quality of who he is.

That's why he was among the many to give Rivers a standing ovation last night, Rivers' first time playing against the Celtics since the two parted ways this past summer.

"I respect a good coach and I’m appreciative to the opportunity that I have and I’m appreciative of the time that he spent here," Stevens said. "I’m appreciative of the good times he had and I’m appreciative of the tough ones he had that built to those good times."

Boston (10-14)  finds itself in that latter stage of its development right now. And yet the Celtics still have the best record, or least worst depending on how you spin it, in the Eastern Conference.

For this team to win a division title would be one of the biggest NBA shockers in recent years.

But the players, like their coach, aren't thinking about that.

The praise is OK. But a steady pursuit towards the process of improving, is more what this Stevens-coached team is about.

"Just getting better, one game at a time," said Jordan Crawford. "That's what coach (Stevens) wants from us, and that's what we're trying to do."

Which means these Celtics will continue to screw up all those predictions about their demise this season.

Boston's Jared Sullinger set folks straight on that earlier this month.

"A lot of guys expect us to tank for (Jabari) Parker or (Andrew) Wiggins," Sullinger said. "Y'all might as well throw that out the door. I don't know why people keep talking about tanking. We got competitors around here. We're not really like that. We just want to win and show everybody that they can kiss our butts about that tanking stuff."