This week’s episode of CLNSRadio’s Celtics Beat features Boston Celtics president Rich Gotham. The franchise’s lead executive returns to the show and shares his thoughts on the upcoming season and the state of the franchise with Celtics Beat Executive Producer and Host, CLNSRadio’s resident Celtics historian, Larry H. Russell.
The conversation is revealing on several fronts. Gotham gives a glimpse into the confidence that the organization has in the team they’ve assembled for this season. He expects that the team will be one of several teams in the thick of the playoff race in an Eastern Conference that has improved through the middle over the offseason.
Gotham also stressed that, while the organization appreciates its fan base and enjoys it when the fans and media are positive about the team, those external expectations and reactions don’t factor into their decision-making at all. He talked about how, even though there are no guarantees and that they are in an industry that is cyclical by definition, the organization has confidence in their approach and that they “know how to build a championship team”.
The insight into the mentality and approach of the organization was especially interesting. Throughout the conversation he talked about ‘continuous improvement’, ‘culture’ and even about how the ‘architecture’ of the team that they’ve built is designed to help sustain success.
Back in the spring, I wrote a post titled “Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics building a great company” that compared the Celtics rebuilding effort to the process of building a strong company. The premise was that the way Ainge had built a solid base of role players, coaching staff and management to create a desirable environment for a superstar mirrors the way a corporate entity would strengthen its fundamentals and establish a solid COO/CFO in order to attract that rockstar CEO/CTO that they needed to push them to the next level.
I thought back to that post as I listened to Rich Gotham, the man entrusted with leading the design and execution of the Celtics franchise, use terms that I hear on an almost daily basis in my day at a fairly large software development company.
Gotham talked about how his primary expectation of the team and of the organization as a whole is that simply that they get better every day. That expectation isn’t just an ad-hoc, post-hoc referendum that is applied to judge success and failure. It is woven into the very fabric of their decision-making.
Some fans and media members see an overcrowded roster. The Celtics see competition for playing time and depth to overcome temporary setbacks and keep them team moving forward to their goal.
This focus on “continuous improvement” is also a fundamental aspect of the processes that the software development (as well as manufacturing) industry is built on. The Japanese call it ‘kaizen’ and it is one of the pillars of the Agile Development philosophy that has established itself over the past decade as the predominant way that software companies build their products and services.
Another moment that caught my attention was when Gotham referenced the ‘architecture’ of the team and how it was designed to help the team sustain success. He didn’t go into too much detail about how the team was architected but it is easy to infer that Ainge has intentionally built a squad of relatively interchangeable parts.
While everyone has a role, coach Brad Stevens has an almost inexhaustible supply of combinations he can assemble to address any situation that the team might find itself in. That flexibility and the depth behind it provides them with the ability to withstand the inevitable injuries. In the context of the rebuilding effort, it gives them something even more invaluable.
I have written about this before, but that flexibility gives them a greater opportunity to respond to the trade market. The next quantum jump in the rebuilding effort will happen when Ainge is able to move young players, short-term contracts, and draft picks to cash in and bring in an impact player. The trade market for such players is exceedingly volatile and it is impossible to anticipate just who will become available down the line.
The architecture of this team allows them to get in on virtually ANY impact player that becomes available. Position simply does not matter. There is no one on the roster that would present an obstacle to a deal due to positional overlap. Further, the depth of the team, across every position, allows them to deal players without significantly compromising the support system of role players around whichever superstar they hope to bring in.
In short, the architecture of the team allows the franchise to be nimble going forward. Similarly, in the software world, the best companies focus significant effort on architecting their systems in a way that allows them to be nimble and responsive to changes in their market and changes in technology.
The quality that Celtics President Rich Gotham evoked most often in the interview was “culture”. Several times, he stressed the importance of culture and how it impacted the organization’s decision-making.
Looking back, it’s easy to see the important role that culture has played in the franchise’s rebuilding strategy. Most fans, if asked to point to the beginning of the Celtics rebuilding effort, would most likely point to the July 2013 trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a treasure trove of draft picks (and on-court flotsam and jetsam like Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, etc.). I would argue that wasn’t the beginning of the rebuild, it was the beginning of the tear-down.
The real beginning of the rebuild happened on a week or so earlier when the franchise hired Brad Stevens to replace Doc Rivers as head coach.
That hiring signaled the importance that the franchise was placing on culture. Stevens was hired to do more than coach the players Danny Ainge assembled. He was hired as a partner with Ainge and the rest of the management team to preserve and transform the championship culture that was built during the Garnett/Pierce era.
That culture is another significant asset in the rebuilding effort. In a league where marquee franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks are dealing with ownership, management, and coaching dysfunction, the stability, focus and alignment of the Celtics franchise should be eminently desirable to potential free agents and trade targets.
Similarly, the software industry has embraced the importance of organizational culture. Time, effort and money are dedicated to ensuring that employees have a comfortable, yet challenging environment. Managers and Executives spend as much time talking about how to build the right culture as they do on budgets, employee performance, and product strategy. Culture is a primary recruiting tool as these companies compete to hire and retain the best talent.
Nothing in life is guaranteed and even less is guaranteed in the NBA. The Boston Celtics had a very successful run at the end of last season that landed them in the playoffs. Expectations are high this season but the very nature of the NBA is such that the team could very well take a step back this season.
All an organization can do is to conceive and execute a strategy that they believe will give them the best opportunity for success. Listening to Rich Gotham on CLNSRadio’s Celtics Beat this week it is undeniable that the Celtics franchise is confident that they have done just that. As someone with insight into how organizations in another industry position themselves for success, it was incredibly encouraging for me to hear such a familiar approach to building a winner.