The dysfunction of the 2018-2019 Boston Celtics has been discussed ad nauseam. A focal point of the discussion has been head coach Brad Stevens. His ability to manage a team with both superstars and high expectations is in question. Stevens admittedly struggled to control player egos and distribute minutes throughout the highly talented roster. Despite these difficulties, the Celtics have exuded confidence in his coaching abilities. With a multitude of off-season roster changes, and a renewed sense of positivity, Stevens is poised to have a major bounce back season.
The Perfect System Superstar
The substitution of Kemba Walker for Kyrie Irving may be the most important factor in Stevens having a successful 2019-2020 campaign. Although Walker is a slight step back in talent, he exudes leadership qualities far superior to Irving. Walker's hard-nosed, prove-it style of play allows for him to lead on the floor, while his strong but silent type attitude will benefit off the floor. These qualities align much better with Stevens' principles than the entitlement of Irving.
Additionally, not enough emphasis has been put on just how good Kemba Walker is. Walker averaged 25.6 points per game (PPG), 5.9 assists per game (APG), and shot 43.4% from the floor in his last season with the Hornets. He earned the nickname "Cardiac Kemba" from his late game heroics during his tenure at the University of Connecticut. He provides Stevens with not only an extremely talented offensive weapon, but one that will also buy into the system without any concern for undermining. Walker is the perfect superstar for Stevens to integrate into his system.
Eliminated Rotational Pressure
Brad Stevens visibly frustrated during a game from the 2018-2019 campaign. (Credit: Masslive.com)
One of the most challenging tasks for Stevens last season was distributing minutes. The team was highly talented in the starting rotation and on the bench; making it difficult to take minutes from players who felt they had earned them. Players were reluctant to accept their roles and it lead to internal conflict.
To make matters worse, Stevens received criticism for the handling of Gordon Hayward returning from his gruesome leg injury. Hayward was thrown into the starting lineup and played extensive minutes in hopes of returning to his former All-Star caliber play. Hayward flashed moments of brilliance, but was never able to produce consistently. Rumors have circulated that players within the locker room felt slighted on playing time because Stevens catered to Hayward due to their previous relationship at Butler.
The good news for the upcoming campaign is that all of those issues have seemingly been eliminated. With the departure of Irving, Terry Rozier, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris, the new-look Celtics seem to have much more defined roles. With these roles established, Stevens can distribute minutes to players who have earned them, rather than who is entitled to them. Additionally, Hayward is now two full years removed from his injury. He should be able to produce on a more consistent basis. This eliminates the burden on Stevens of having to force Hayward into situations to be re acclimated to game speed.
The expectation to be the best team in the Eastern Conference last season was a major burden on the Celtics' young core and Stevens. For the 2019-2020 season, the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have emerged as the Eastern Conference title favorites. This perspective leaves the Celtics as the third best team in the East.
This is a major advantage for Stevens. He can bring back the underdog mentality that the Celtics teams had prior to the Kyrie Irving trade. He can also wipe away any sense of entitlement that his younger players developed. By using this to his advantage, he can recreate the dynamic that carried the franchise to three Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite lesser team expectations, Stevens will have a major bounce back season.