Boston’s success may mean a new long-term dynasty…
Two nights ago, the Boston Celtics ended the Indiana Pacers’ seven-game winning streak. Indiana had been on a tear since the All-Star break, climbing up to the seventh seed and additionally waiting for the return of Paul George. Brad Stevens’s Celtics put an end to that. And while the league is turning its attention to surprise teams like Indiana, the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans, there’s one team that has defeated all those squads in the month of March: the Boston Celtics, who in addition to Saturday’s win over the Pacers notched two wins in three nights against the Jazz and Pellies. Since the break, they’ve also beaten the Memphis Grizzlies and nearly stole one from the Golden State Warriors.
In other words, not only is this team hot, but they’re hot against the hottest teams in the league at the moment. But there’s something much, much more radical about what Boston is doing, about how they’re doing it. And the radical nature of how they’ve accomplished this streak says much about this Celtics team now but even more about where this team is headed.
Here’s the mind-blowing fact that should dramatically change how you see Boston: The Celtics have used 22 different players this season.
What this elucidates, of course, is the simple fact—a fact that won’t be uncovered by analytics—that Brad Stevens might be the most dynamically adaptable coach in the NBA with the obvious “other than Gregg Popovich clause.” Popovich clearly stands out as the league’s best coach, for obvious reasons, but after him the rankings get slippery. Rick Carlisle, Mike Budenholzer, Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel are all right there.
But allow me to submit Brad Stevens as the league’s second-best coach, and surefire inheritor of the league’s best when Popovich calls it quits. Stevens not only has shown incredible flexibility in his rotations, but he owns the respect of his players. And, at 38, he’s only a few years older than some of them.
Stevens has succeeded with only moderately talented rosters. He gives Boston an on-court presence that very few teams have. And Danny Ainge gives the Celtics their front office savvy, the second major reason Boston fans should be excited moving forward.
The assets the Celtics control are nearly innumerable. Of course there are all sorts of clauses on these draft picks, but the fact remains that Boston continues to be the league’s best at accruing stock in the draft, which can translate to a number of other benefits.
It’s not only the draft picks, though. With the salary cap set to skyrocket in 2016-2017, Boston has positioned itself impeccably to have not only young players and talent but financial freedom. When the cap jumps in a couple years to roughly $90 million dollars, Boston currently has only $14 million committed—in the form of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, a backcourt combination that has worked well to this point.
While other teams are scrambling to find a coach, to stack up assets, to prepare for the future, Boston is sitting pretty. Very few teams are as well positioned financially. Arguably no team is better positioned in the draft over the next five years. But the kicker for me is Stevens.
Dynasties often come and go. For years the Lakers were championship contenders, but they’ve fallen off. The Nets of the early 2000s. The Detroit Pistons of Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton. But only one franchise has made the playoffs the last 17 seasons—a streak that more than doubles the next-closest team. Only the San Antonio Spurs have watched this all from afar, and the reason they’ve done so is the confluence of great front office work, a franchise player in Tim Duncan and the best coaching possible in Gregg Popovich.
Right now, Boston has two of those three under its belt. Their front office is enviably savvy. And Brad Stevens could be a top one or two coach in the league for the next 30 years. All Boston needs now is a franchise player, and with its mix of draft and player assets, they’ve positioned themselves well for that, too.