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Friday, 21 March 2014 20:15

''Welcome To The NBA'' - Brad Stevens And His Difficult First NBA Season

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A few months ago, the Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was ejected from a game for the first time since he came to the NBA. It happened during the closing moments of a loss at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, a team that had a similarly poor record. The Celtics were losing a game that even during their poor season, they should have won. And when the referee made a debatable foul call, Stevens decided to let his feelings be known.

It wasn't what you would call an explosion of emotion. If you're looking for something like that, it's best to search for his infamous eruption during a Butler game, a reaction that was turned into a GIF image that still does the rounds. Instead he simply placed his whiteboard and marker down on his seat, walked over to the referee, said something, and then turned around and started walking away, knowing that he was being thrown out of the game. It's still unknown exactly what Stevens said, but it's not difficult to imagine the kind of language he would have used to get ejected.

In the locker room afterwords, Gerald Wallace was asked what he thought about Stevens, a traditionally calm and well mannered coach being ejected. Wallace simply said, ''welcome to the NBA.''

It's difficult not to think that Wallace is saying a little more than he thinks. Wallace of course was one of the few players at the start of the season who expressed concern that Stevens was not up to coaching an NBA team. Considering that Stevens has lost more games in his first season in Boston than he did in his entire tenure at Butler University, it's not out of the question that Wallace still harbors these feelings.

If anything, Brad Stevens has become a victim of his own reputation. When he first took the job as C's head coach, opinion was divided on how successful he would be. Some said that he would break the curse of college coaches in the NBA and take the Celtics close to the playoffs in his first season. Others said he would crash and fail.

It was during the second and third week of the season that things got a little out of hand. The C's went on a winning streak that included an absolute destruction of the Orlando Magic and a headline grabbing win over the Miami Heat. Suddenly, because the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks had started so badly, the Celtics looked like they could even win the Division. A prediction that in hindsight was asking too much.

For around a month, Celtics fans were given hope that this season wouldn't be about being in lottery pick contention, only to have them dashed when the wins started to dry up just after Christmas. Were the C's tanking on purpose? Probably not. Early in the season when turnovers had been a problem, Stevens joked that he was going to run color tests with the team to teach them how to pass to people wearing green. Later in the season, he actually did it.

If you were to go back and look at Brad Stevens during the press conference where he was announced as the new head coach, he looks like a totally different person. Back then he looked young, vibrant, and delicately oozing intelligence. It was easy to see how he was being mistaken for a student on a regular basis while at Butler. He talked about being very exited about the prospect of pursuing Banner 18 for the Celtics. He looked happy, despite how much he looked like a fish out of water. He seemed out of place, but he seemed comfortable with it, like he'd had it all his coaching career.

Go back and watch that interview, then look at one of his most recent press conferences. His aging during the season could rival that of President Obama from inauguration to the present day. He looks tired, worn down by the constant stream of defeats. He's preparing for every game in great detail, trying to find weak spots to exploit while trying to hide his team's own faults. His team so often has shot itself in the foot this year, either giving up a lead or not starting the game quick enough. While the C's are strong on defense for a team in their position, they're still turning the ball over at a disturbing rate. All Stevens can do is watch it happen, then walk off the court and try and focus on the next game.

But how can you tell a coach to do that? How can you tell someone who wants to win more than anything that he must lose and move on? To lose goes against everything a coach stands for, especially when it comes to Stevens. As a child, he enjoyed playing board games, which essentially consisted of anything where he could win outright. He possibly hates to lose more than he loves to win. And now here he is, coaching a Boston Celtics team with one of the worst records in the NBA.

It's difficult to convince someone to be patient, even someone of Stevens' intellect. You could try and tell him relax and plan for a future that should be brighter, but that's easier said than done. If you were to tell a homeless person that they would be living in a mansion in three years time, they would still have difficulty getting through the night.

So what can Stevens do? The only advice you could really give him is to breathe. Breathe deeply and try and be patient, because the future will be better. The C's have a large number of draft picks approaching over the next few years, and they will have a healthy amount of cap room thanks to the trade exemptions in the deal sending Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets. Over the next few years, Danny Ainge and Stevens will have the opportunity to build the championship team they are looking for.

A few hard decisions have to be made first. A large number of players will probably be leaving TD Garden during the off-season, with Gerald Wallace and Brandon Bass being the favorites to exit. It was quite a surprise for many not to see at least one of these players departing before the trade deadline. But you can almost guarantee there will be plenty of moves being made before the start of next season.

Right now, Brad Stevens just needs to try and take the summer off to think. To address the way he coaches, and find a way to grow a little. Then, when he feels ready, he can tackle building his Banner 18 winning Boston Celtics.

Now, bring Brad Stevens that horizon.

Eric Wood

Eric Wood is a Celtics beat writer for CLNS Radio. He lives in the north of England where he currently works as a freelance writer. He has previously worked for newspapers such as the Bolton News and Manchester Evening News. He is also currently the film critic for the British website City Connect. His debut novella, "Stealing The Planet" is due for release later in the year.

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