Brad Stevens saw a lot in his first season in the NBA as a head coach.
After the 57th and final loss of the season, he gave some insight as to what he learned from his maiden voyage in the pro ranks of basketball.
“I think the best thing I learned is that this is not fun to not win but it doesn’t define who you are or how you go about your business. One of the things that I’m probably most happy about with our team is that they didn’t change necessarily who they were. They didn’t let the losing or the multiple losses affect them or their approach, and I hope that I was the same way.”
The best advice for what would be a long season came at the start of the season, when Celtics assistant coach and long-time NBA veteran coach and scout Ron Adams offered some perspective on patience.
“I learned a lot about the NBA game and how it’s played,” Stevens said. “It’s a different kind of basketball. Ron Adams told me at the beginning of the year, ‘If I went and coached high school after 22 years coaching in the NBA, I wouldn’t know what’s going on. It’s 32 minutes, no shot clock. I’d really have to adjust to that.’ I think that’s probably true no matter which way you go. But it is an adjustment. The part I felt most comfortable was in the game, once we got used to the time outs, the 24-second clock and all that other stuff.”
All that other stuff for Stevens starts and ends with better and more consistent defense. It’s what separates talented teams from winning teams in the NBA. It’s what separates teams that can close out games and protect leads from those – like the 2013-14 Celtics – who lose close games time after time down the stretch. Stevens very rarely called his team out after games of this lost season, with a notable exception coming after a lackluster home loss to the Sixers on April 4. But after the final game Wednesday, he delivered a clear and present message to any player that might return next season.
‘So there’s a couple different ways to look at it: are you going to get better in your role, or are you going to expand your role? What I mean by that is: are you going to get better at what you do well, or are you going to get better at some other things that make you, that give you the chance to instead of be the eighth guy be the fifth guy, instead of be the fifth guy be the third guy. We have a lot of great data to be able to share and subjective thoughts as well, and I think we can get better with the guys in the room. I think we clearly are going to need to add to our team to be better, but I told them at halftime, I said, ‘We can start it on October 1st or we can start it right now.’ That is, we’ve got to have a defensive DNA to start next season at a little bit different level than I thought we did at the end of this season. I thought we tried to compete defensively early-on in the year; I didn’t think we made the strides that I would’ve liked to have made.’
Stevens took the time Wednesday at halftime of a game in which they surrendered 38 points in the first quarter and 68 points in the half to remind his team of exactly what he will expect going forward.
‘At halftime, I was obviously disappointed in our defensive effort,” Stevens said. “I knew, just look out there, we were undermanned a little bit, but I thought we could play better defensively and it thought we came out in the second half with a great deal of spirit and fight, a little bit more aggressiveness, and it was great until we were worn out. And I thought we wore out and we didn’t have any juice in the last 10 minutes or so, prior to that little run at the end. Credit them; they put us in a world of hurt in a lot of different match-ups. It’s a good basketball team who’s playing well right now, who, as I said earlier, is really sitting pretty for the future because they’ve got really good players at the one and the two that are both very young, that have a chance to be elite at their positions.’
The one player Stevens praised for his work ethic all season was Brandon Bass, the winner of the Red Auerbach award.
“I just told him this in front of the team, he’s as good of a pro as we have,” Stevens beamed. “He shows up every day, he’s the first one to the gym on the road, he’s the first one to the gym at home, he takes care of his body as well or better than any of our players on our team nutrition-wise, stretching-wise, in the weight room. And his individual workouts are deliberate to what applies to making his game good. And I don’t think everybody that works on the game anywhere in the world do those things as well as some of the best pros, and I think we need to really embrace that deliberate work-ethic all around the way and Brandon Bass is a great example of that for our team.’
His lasting impressions from this group?
“I think we can get better, I think we can get better,” Stevens said. “Unlike, you would think at the end of a season like this, I’m not concerned that we aren’t going to strive to get better, if that makes sense. I think we will work, I think their work-ethics are good, I think their coachability is pretty good, and I think that the one thing that they never really did, you know maybe here or there, there was a line or two, you all know better than I do because you’re the ones asking them, they never really splintered.
“Things like this is can splinter you pretty easily, and they stayed together pretty well as far as standing up for one another and being a team and not pointing blame, and it’s been a pretty good group from that regard, and that gives you a chance to improve. You know, it’s the old adage that you can’t improve without accountability, so that gives you a chance moving forward.’