Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge may have just found his coach for the future.
The pressing question now is whether that decision will cost him his All-Star point guard of the present.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Ainge took his coaching search to the college ranks and left with one of the brightest young minds in the game:
The Boston Celtics signed Brad Stevens to a six year, $22 million contract, sources told Yahoo! Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 4, 2013
For those who don't know, Brad Stevens spent the last six years as head coach of the Butler Bulldogs. During his tenure, Butler made a pair of national championship appearances and helped Stevens compile the strongest six-year start to a coaching career in Division I history:
From @ESPNStatsInfo, Brad Stevens won 166 games in 6 years at Butler, the most ever for a Division I coach in his first 6 seasons.— The NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 3, 2013
Ainge had kept his targets close to the vest since Doc Rivers orchestrated his move to the Los Angeles Clippers, so it's hard to say any potential hiring could have been considered a surprise. Still, the 36-year-old Stevens had never been more than a distant blip on the NBA radar.
As Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe notes, though, there was an expectation Ainge would take an unconventional approach with the hire:
NBA source to me on June 24: “I think they do have to go young, and Danny [Ainge] is going to want to look like a genius."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) July 3, 2013
Hiring Stevens, who has spent his entire coaching career at the Indianapolis-based university, was certainly unconventional. As for what this means for Boston's unconventional floor general Rajon Rondo, analysts are already scratching their heads:
Any chance Rajon Rondo puts on a Celtics' uniform again now?— RealGM (@RealGM) July 3, 2013
Consistently winning at a mid-major school during the one-and-done era of college basketball is no small achievement. The program has produced all of five NBA players. Utah Jazz third-year swingman Gordon Hayward already has enjoyed the longest career of any former Bulldog stars.
While that's enough to impress the talking heads, it may not hold the same water in an NBA locker room. With the prolonged schedule, multimillionaire players and a host of egos to manage, Stevens has to prepare for something unlike anything he's faced before:
Brad Stevens is a good basketball coach but whether or not he can deal with NBA realities is a huge question mark.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) July 3, 2013
There's one ego in particular hoops scribes think will be quite the handful for the wet-behind-the-ears leader:
Can't wait to see Brad Stevens try and reach Rajon Rondo. He has never dealt with anyone like Rondo. Not even close.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 3, 2013
Rondo's attitude has been fodder for the talking heads in Boston throughout his seven-year career.
His feud with Ray Allen reportedly contributed to the sharpshooter's decision to spurn the Celtics for the Miami Heat. Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops reported that Rivers' West Coast move had less to do with Boston's rebuilding project and more to do with his "intense dislike" for Rondo.
The NBA is a players' league. Stevens' road to success isn't just potentially blocked by a disgruntled Rondo; Stevens doesn't even have a car to drive if Rondo doesn't hand him the keys first.
If that's not motivation enough for Ainge to at least consider moving Rondo, then the potential prize for cleaning house could start the thought process. With a loaded draft class ready for next summer, a lost season might not be as bad as it seems:
The Celtics can't get Tim Duncan this time around, but they could get @22wiggins— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) July 3, 2013
This assumes, of course, that Rondo's still on the Celtics roster when Stevens takes his prominent perch on an NBA sideline for the first time. Rebuilding teams often enter fire-sale mode, where stars are made available to the highest bidder. But some analysts aren't ready to punch Rondo's ticket out of Boston just yet:
Twitter appears to believe that this means Rondo is gone. I still don't think so.— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) July 3, 2013
Rondo is still only 27 years old, so he shouldn't be too far removed from his prime if Ainge can orchestrate a fast-paced rebuild. While he's not exactly cheap, the $25 million he's owed over the next two seasons seems appropriate for a four-time All-Star.
All of these projected problems on the horizon for Stevens and Rondo are just that—projections. If Rondo buys what Stevens is selling, Ainge can scratch both coach and point guard off of his areas to address.
Stevens got the most out of his players at Butler. If those development skills translate to the pro game, then players like Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger could be in line for breakthrough seasons. That in turn makes Rondo's job easier and effectively stops the rumor mill's churning.
There are no guarantees Stevens can get through to Rondo or that he'll even be given that attempt.
But it's a gamble worth taking for Ainge, Stevens and Rondo.