Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Brad Stevens to Boston Reminds Us What Else is Green ($$$)

New Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has a six-year contract in hand as he walks away from a Butler program that he nearly helped steer to a Hoosiers finish in the 2010 NCAA championship game.

That same Butler program is now lacking the steward that made it attractive to the refurbished Big East Conference, a league dying to remind everyone that it will still be relevant without Syracuse, Louisville, UConn and all those other barbarians who follow football money around like a dog with a chain through its nose.

Do we know how much Stevens is getting paid in Boston? No, but it's a pretty safe bet that it's at least triple (quadruple? QUINTUPLE?) the $1.2M that Butler was paying him on his contract extension that ran through 2022. As a young man with a young family who worked some menial office jobs before he became a well-paid head coach, none of us (especially me, with a young family and part-time gigs of my own) should begrudge him a payday.

Those of us who enjoy and cover college basketball, however, can bemoan it all day long. In a game that is increasingly being defaced by realignment and package-deal recruiting tactics, the list of truly likable, charismatic and talented coaches who succeed well enough to stick around and improve a program's standing in the game is short enough already.

The NBA poaching one to a gig where he's going to be done in by egotistical players and a general manager whose judgment is frequently questionable (how'd those Sebastian Telfair and Gerald Green acquisitions work out, Celtic fans?) is just downright sad.

Stevens occasionally seems like a robot on the sideline, cool and stoic win or lose. When the Bulldogs pulled out a last-second win over Gonzaga in a nationally televised battle at Hinkle, Stevens evinced little excitement. When asked why, this was the response:

"What goes through my mind is, the hay is in the barn," Stevens said. "If a guy makes a shot like that or doesn't, it doesn't define who we are. It doesn't affect how I evaluate our team. It doesn't break our season. I'm a huge person on growth over prize."

Growth over prize is all well and good at a college program, especially one up from Butler's humble roots, where the coach is the only one getting paid (allegedly). Try to sell that to NBA players, a group of people among whom even the most relentlessly average make more coin than all but the elite coaches, and they'll roll eyes.

The owner paying those relentlessly average players is doing it for the prize of a full arena, and the fans will only cooperate when wins are vastly more frequent than the losses. A club praying for ping-pong balls to fall in exactly the right combination doesn't tend to engender a ton of optimism.

As for Butler, it will scramble to find someone who can keep elevating the program's profile to the point where signees like in-state four-star sniper Kellen Dunham are the norm rather than the exception. Stevens' ability to evaluate and develop talent, the very qualities that make him attractive to a team stripping down to land Andrew Wiggins (give it up, Danny), will be extremely difficult for any other late-stage candidate to replace.

As of this writing, ESPN lists five of its top 100 prospects in the class of 2014 as considering Butler. Were they swayed by the quaint charms of Hinkle Fieldhouse? Do they think the new mascot, Butler Blue III (aka Trip) is cute? (He is, as can be seen in the video here, but still.)

Or were they thinking about playing for Brad Stevens, who somehow assembled a Horizon League team tough enough to survive five NCAA tournament games and come within an inch of winning the sixth over always-indomitable Duke?

Brad Stevens wins in this deal, because he's getting the kind of paid in full Eric B. and Rakim could only dream about. A savvy investment guy will have Stevens set for life when he's let go after four years once Boston fails to win the lottery, Ainge makes a string of bad draft picks and the team can't climb above a six-seed even in the crumbling Eastern Conference. To boot, he'll have any college job he wants lined up at his door.

Danny Ainge wins in this deal, because he's landed a compelling big-name coach who can serve as the pretty shade of lipstick on the pig of a roster that will suit up in Celtic green as soon as Rajon Rondo tantrums his way out of town.

Celtic fans win, because they have a reason to have faith. If Stevens could put tiny Butler in the national title game -- TWICE! -- surely he can hang another banner once the ping-pong balls align to deliver the Canadian messiah.

Butler loses. HARD. Prospective candidates like current Bulldog assistant Brandon Martin and Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan were a good backcourt on the Hinkle hardwood in 2001, when the school was still part of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.

Unfortunately, the 2014 recruits were still in preschool when those guys played. The kids won't care. Stevens is gone, so watch Butler get crossed off list after list just when it has to contend with schools like Marquette and Georgetown.

(One caveat: Indianapolis Park Tudor swingman Trevon Bluiett is considering Michigan and Butler. LaVall Jordan is the primary recruiter trying to woo him to Ann Arbor. This package deal would set the Bulldogs up well.)

The Celtics have been down this road before, when they snagged Rick Pitino from a superb run at Kentucky. Even with a roster packed with his former stars (Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and Walter McCarty in particular) and a great draft pick named Paul Pierce, Pitino lasted essentially three full seasons and never saw a playoff game from the sideline.

Is Stevens a better coach than Pitino? How you answer that question will determine how much faith you have in the Celtics.

Me? I'll be first in line to welcome Brad Stevens back to college in May of 2017. And he'll be rich enough to hand twenties to all of us.

After all, Celtic green and currency green are just about the same color.

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