LAS VEGAS — The speculation began mere minutes after Brad Stevens ascended from the Celtic bench to become the team’s president of basketball operations. He’d been Coach Stevens since 2001 — six years as an assistant and six as head coach at Butler, then eight years leading the Celtics.
So when would the urge to return to that role overtake him? When would he feel the need to again direct the action from the sideline?
The answer was, in fact, quite soon.
In a startling revelation to Heavy Sports, Stevens acknowledged that he has already dipped his toes back into the coaching waters.
“I did coach two 7th grade girls’ soccer practices this year,” he said. “So, you never know, maybe I’ll go back and be a soccer coach, just like a Ted Lasso-type thing.”
Could, perhaps, 8th grade girls’ soccer be in his future?
“I don’t think they’re going to bring me back,” Stevens deadpanned after a laugh.
Hey, that’s a cut-throat business.
Stevens on a Potential Return to Coaching
In all seriousness, such is decidedly the case with NBA coaching. Major college, too. But Stevens’ equanimity in those positions and obvious enjoyment of the player-coach relationship — and his success — will make him a go-to name when jobs become open.
But here he was on Saturday afternoon, sitting in the second row at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center watching Orlando and Sacramento engage in summer league battle. Beside him was his Celtic successor, Ime Udoka. Twenty-three days prior, they had lost Game 6 and the NBA Finals to Golden State. Now the focus was the present and future.
And Stevens is very content with that task.
“My motivation is for the Celtics to be good,” he said. “So I always feel like that’s a huge motivation for us. This organization’s been great to us. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed both roles I’ve been in. I love the people I’ve worked with in both roles, and my family loves it, so, yeah, we’re really happy.
“I’m not going to try to predict the future. I have no idea. No idea. I don’t know if I’d ever coach again. We’ll see.”
There are no lines to read between with that remark. It’s just honesty. While others might boldly — and falsely — seek to cut off all conjecture, Brad Stevens is a prisoner of his character.
Stevens Praises Ime Udoka
When the balls started bouncing in 2021-22, he had no whistle to blow and no one to yell at. He was good with that — and he wanted those around him to know it.
“I’ve made a conscious decision to sit up top during games, made a conscious decision to not be in the film room,” Stevens said.
“You know, this is his job, this is his thing,” he went on, motioning toward Udoka. “We’re just making sure we support the players and the coaches in any way we can. I felt like that was our job during the season, and during the offseason you’re just trying to now hopefully help continue to build a roster that can be as competitive as possible and can function well together.
“He and his staff did a great job, and when we talked it was little things. Obviously, you’re always there. There’s certain things when you’re playing opponents that maybe there’s one little idea that we used in the past, but very rarely. Like, mostly it was, ‘How can I help?’
“And that’s also for the players — not only the guys that guys that are earning the big bucks, but the guys that didn’t play. Like, how can we help make this a great experience for everybody?”
And even though he had worked closely with Danny Ainge, the new gig brought distinct challenges.
“Oh, man, it’s so different,” Stevens said. “I just think the reality is it’s a big job because of the responsibility towards everyone in the organization.
“I’d say that it’s a lot like college coaching, from the standpoint of in college it felt like you really didn’t spend as much time on coaching as you would think. Here, you do a lot of the roster stuff, but it’s like a small portion of the job. The biggest thing is making sure everybody’s working together and, again, just creating one message around our organization about what’s important and how we want to move forward. And I’ve really enjoyed that part. It’s team-building with 70 people.
“It’s such a different cadence to the work. There are some similarities, from the standpoint of the whole goal is to be a part of an organization that’s all moving in one direction and get all the right people in all the right positions. We’re really lucky, because we have a lot of that. We have so many people in the organization that everybody (in the general public) knows their name, and there’s a lot of people in the organization that nobody knows their name — and they’re just all willing to do whatever it takes for us to be a little bit better every day. It’s been good.”
Along the way, Stevens has gained an appreciation for the job Ainge did. He’s even willing to forgive his former boss for scrambling his rotation nearly every summer.
“Yeah, this has been valuable in giving me a whole different perspective,” he said. “You know, there were a lot of things I knew Danny was working really hard on that were really going to impact us in a big way. But there were a lot of things that he didn’t show any stress over that were probably weighing on him. And he always navigated it with a great attitude and treated everybody really well.”
These days, Stevens is treated rather like he was in years past — at least in greeting. Hall of Fame coach and administrator C.M. Newton once told me, “When you change professions, they call you something different. But once you’re a coach, they call you Coach for the rest of your life.”
“Yeah, they do that,” Stevens said. “That’s for sure. Everywhere I go here, same thing.
“Bottom line is I don’t know what the future holds. But I’m not… I mean, I’m enjoying this job. It’s really challenging, and I really want to see us do really well, so there’s nothing in my plans other than doing this job.”