Rumors connecting Brad Stevens to Indiana's head coaching vacancy have been swirling over the past few days. While Stevens already has a phenomenal job with the Boston Celtics, there are several reasons why returning to his home state and coaching the Hoosiers actually makes a lot of sense at this point. The timing seems perfect.
Despite high expectations, the Celtics have wildly underperformed this season. After 40 games, they're 20-20. Despite three All-Star caliber players and a deep roster, Stevens' squad is currently eighth in the Eastern Conference. Whatever he's doing with this group of players isn't working and it doesn't look like things will improve any time soon.
The Celtics are also stuck in an increasingly tough Eastern Conference. The Brooklyn Nets now have Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden and are clearly better than the Celtics. They almost certainly will be next year too. The Philadelphia 76ers also sit atop the conference, are loaded, have a top-tier coach in Doc Rivers and aren't going anywhere. Giannis Antetokounmpo isn't leaving Milwaukee any time soon, the Miami Heat are still tough and a team like the Charlotte Hornets will only get better. Boston's path to a title appears to be blocked.
Moreover, Stevens has been with the Celtics for eight years and has never led them to the NBA Finals. Eight seasons is an eternity for NBA coaches. Phil Jackson was run out of Chicago after nine seasons and all he did was lead the Bulls to six titles. Pat Riley was similarly with the Lakers for nine years and stepped down despite winning four titles. Yes, Gregg Popovich has been with the San Antonio Spurs for 25 seasons, but Celtics fans aren't Spurs fans and San Antonio's media isn't Boston's. The heat has been turned up on Stevens' seat and he knows it.
Given where things are, there's a decent chance Stevens is let go in a few months, or certainly after next season if he doesn't win a championship. He's a pretty smart guy, he has to know which way the wind is blowing in Boston. So why would he return to college basketball when he's rejected other opportunities to do so? Because things change. The situation at Indiana right now is as favorable as it has ever been for the next coach. And being the head coach of the Hoosiers was always his dream job.
Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson isn't messing around. He was able to easily put together the cash to pay Archie Miller's substantial $10.3 million buyout and pay for all the "transition costs" associated with bringing in a new staff. If he could do that, he could certainly come up with a massive contract for Stevens, who is still beloved in the state for what he did at Butler. At last check, the Celtics were paying their head coach about $3.7 million a year. Given that Dolson is suddenly flush with cash, he could offer Stevens a substantial raise and guarantee him more years than Boston can. On top of that, he'd likely be able to offer significant money for assistant coaches and support staff.
Right now, Indiana is serious about turning around its basketball program after nearly two decades of ineptitude. Donors have stepped up to offer the cash needed to make that happen. Stevens would be walking out of a tenuous situation into one where he'd be revered for returning to his home state to go back to college. The prodigal son would have an incredibly long leash and nearly unlimited resources to build the program he wanted. You can't honestly tell me that wouldn't be enticing.
When you grow up in Indiana as a basketball fan, the game means more. It just does. It's hard to explain but the state has a magnetic pull to the sport. Ask anyone from Indiana and they'll tell you there's something different about basketball in the state. Whether it's true or not, they believe it. Stevens was born in Zionsville, played college basketball at DePauw and had never coached outside the state before going to the Celtics. He grew up an Indiana fan and, as stated, it was his dream job. There's no way he's not listening to Indiana's pitch.
Will Stevens end up at Indiana? I don't know and, frankly, I'd put odds against it. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would leave a current job in the middle of the season, regardless of what was being offered. But the timing and situation will never be better for him to return to the Hoosier state and take the job he's always been meant to have.