Brad Stevens is Leading the Celtics Into a New Era of Greatness

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks
Boston Celtics v New York Knicks / Steven Ryan/GettyImages

It was quite a shock, back in 2021, when the news broke that Brad Stevens would be stepping down as head coach of the Boston Celtics. It was an even bigger shock to learn he would be replacing Danny Ainge as president of basketball operations and primary decision-maker for the franchise. Celtics fans thought they had found their forever coach after watching Stevens come to Boston as a 37-year-old and almost immediately prove he was one of the top minds in the game. Then out of nowhere he leaves the bench and ends up in a general manager position with no prior experience? Replacing one of the most beloved Celtics of all time and the architect of the franchise's only championship post-Larry Bird?

How on earth was that going to go?

Very well, it turns out. Stevens nailed hiring his successor, Ime Udoka, who led Boston to the Finals as a rookie head coach. Stevens appears to have nailed hiring his successor, too, with Joe Mazzulla stepping up in the wake of the Udoka scandal to keep the Celtics on a championship trajectory. The team's failure to return to the Finals led to the busiest offseason yet under Stevens, and it came with significant risk. He effectively swapped two of the most beloved Celtics players of the modern era, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams (along with the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon), to bring in Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.

It was a move that made the team better on paper, but by how much was very in question. It was also quite risky. Breaking up a Finals team one year after they were crowned Eastern Conference champs, and in particular doing so by trading two guys key to the chemistry of the unit, is the kind of thing that can change everything. Should Stevens' decisions fail to pan out, all the good work he'd previously done would be forgotten.

But they did pan out. The Celtics have won 60 games and counting. Adding Holiday and Porzingis to the Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown/Derrick White core created the most dangerous starting lineup in the league outside of Denver. The hardest work has yet to be done and ultimately the Celtics are remembered by banners, not regular season wins. But Stevens' gambit paid off, a cold hard fact punctuated by signing Holiday to an extension that helps the team in the near future while locking down the All-NBA defender.

It's another excellent move by Stevens. Not only does Holiday's salary lower for next season (by a small amount, for sure, but literally every dollar matters for teams paying the luxury tax), the point guard also has a player option for the final year of the deal. It gives both parties flexibility and if Holiday falls off a cliff in two seasons then his salary is very tradable. A win-win, by all accounts, and one that gives everybody a variety of options depending on how the near future unfolds.

It also solidifies what was already apparent — the Celtics have a firmly established period of contention for at least the next three seasons. All of their top players are locked down through the end of next season. Everybody other than Derrick White is under contract through the end of the following season. Boston's championship window was already open when Stevens took over; such is the benefit of employing two of the league's All-NBA wings. But he's making sure it stays open for as long as possible.

Stevens is doing so in a very expensive way. If the Celtics keep this core together through the 2024-25 season, sign White to a market-level deal when he hits free agency, and ink Tatum to another supermax, they will have to pay $500 million in 2025-26 between salaries and tax penalties. Half a billion dollars! For a basketball team! It is not illegal for team owners to lose money with their sports franchises but I dare you to find any billionaire owner other than Steve Ballmer who will readily sign up for multiple seasons in the red in exchange for a shot at a title.

That isn't as important, though. That's not our decision. It's Wyc Grouseback's money. Nobody needs to pocket-watch on his behalf. What matters is that this bevy of moves, pricy they may be, really hammers home that Stevens knows what he's doing at the top. Inheriting a great team and making moves around the edges to complete it is one thing. Transforming a contending team into a better contending team is much, much harder. And from all accounts, Stevens absolutely nailed that. He assembled a team filled with players in their prime, with Holiday as the oldest at 33 years old, and got them under contract for multiple years. That's good work.

The championship is what matters, but the franchise is in safe hands for the foreseeable future. As long as Stevens is calling the shots, the Celtics will be in a position to win every year. He's leading the organization into a new era of greatness, and it would be no surrpise to see a few banners sprinkled in there, too.