DENVER – When Brad Stevens guided Butler to NCAA men’s basketball title games in 2010 and 2011, now that was shocking.
Just as shocking was how Stevens acted when he got there. From 10 feet behind the Butler bench, I watched Stevens, arms crossed and palms dry, coolly direct his Bulldogs as if the Final Four were an intrasquad scrimmage back at Hinkle Field House.
In games against Michigan State and Duke, Stevens raised his voice to an official maybe twice, and smiled while he did.
Meanwhile, class bullies Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski laced the refs with enough choice language to fill a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Now the NBA is wondering if Stevens’ measured routine can win big at the highest level of basketball. It will, if the Celtics give him the time and players to see it through. Recent history suggests patience is a virtue in Boston; in his first three seasons, Doc Rivers won only three playoff games. He turned out OK.
The future of the Celtics isn’t dependent on Stevens, who was introduced as their 36-year-old head coach Friday. It’s more about Danny Ainge, their general manager.
Likewise, coach Brian Shaw might be the new face of the Denver Nuggets, but the real pressure is on first-year GM Tim Connelly. In the new NBA, how the front office manages the salary cap is more important than how the coach manages personalities and timeout huddles.
The pressure isn’t on Shaw in his first season in Denver; the pressure is on Connelly.
Nuggets fans shouldn’t be worried that the new regime whiffed on Andre Iguodala when the free agent chose Golden State over Denver on Friday. But be worried the Nuggets’ new regime was willing to offer a $60-million deal to a player who is best served as a second or third option.
This is the going rate for a player often yanked from games due to his shoddy free-throw shooting? Iguodala did the Nuggets a favor by defecting to the Warriors.
In the NBA, the teams that win big are the ones with a long-term blueprint of fiscal responsibility. Or the one with LeBron James.
As for Stevens in Boston, we’ve seen this Celtics blueprint before; it just won the NBA championship in Miami.
It goes without saying that Ainge and Heat GM Pat Riley aren’t going to be Facebook friends any time soon.
Even so, the Celtics’ model sure is starting to look like the Heat’s:
• A young head coach driven by a belief in analytics (Erik Spoelstra, 42; Stevens, 36)
• A powerful, NBA veteran pulling the strings behind the curtain (Riley, Ainge).
There’s a romantic notion the college game is still an amateur sport that values GPAs as much as shooting percentages. Truth is, the college game right now is dirtier, with more shady recruiting, than ever.
One college coach said Friday that actually coaching basketball represents about 20 percent of his job description. Recruiting, scheduling, wooing donors, summer camps, recruiting and more recruiting monopolizes the rest.
By leaping to the NBA, Stevens can focus on what he signed up to do: coach basketball, this time with the greatest athletes in the world.
It makes me chuckle to hear NBA types question whether the baby-faced Stevens has the grit to deal with millionaire egos. Never underestimate the smartest man in the room. Stevens is that.
If the Celtics are as bad as I expect they will be, Stevens won’t be coaching the traditional, jaded NBA veteran over the course of his six-year contract.
The Celtics own six first-round picks over the next three drafts.
The top players on the Celtics’ bench will be NBA underclassmen.
And while Stevens delivered the stunner of the basketball offseason, his performance as coach won’t determine whether the Celtics develop into championship contenders again.
The front office will.
Just like the Nuggets.