Danny Ainge resigned. In an even more shocking development, Brad Stevens is stepping down as head coach and will move to the front office as Boston's new President of Basketball Operations.
To call this unexpected would be understating the matter. There were rumblings near season's end that Ainge was considering his future with the franchise, but there was zero indication Stevens was thinking about leaving his role as head coach, much less transition to the front office and leave coaching behind entirely.
But it's done. Now Stevens will lead the search for his successor. That successor will be in a good position to succeed immediately with a foundation of two All-Star players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown under contract for the next four years. Things didn't go right for Boston this year in any capacity, but the roster is strong and there's a lot to work with. Here are four possible candidates to be the new head coach of the Celtics.
Jason Kidd was one of two names reported to be a candidate in the immediate aftermath of the bombshell news by Chris Haynes. Kidd was a head coach for five years in Brooklyn and Milwaukee; he helped develop Giannis Antetokounmpo into the superstar we now know him as and led the Bucks to relevance after years in the basement. But clashes with the front office and an inability to take the team to the next level led to his dismissal. He's spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kidd is pretty much a known quantity at this point. He's a good player's coach and motivator who does a good enough job maximizing potential, but his X's and O's leave a lot to be desired and he didn't exhibit a lot of coaching chops when the games started to matter come postseason. He also has a lengthly list of concerning off-court issues and interpersonal conflict at every stop he's made as both a player and coach. But if Kidd has learned under Frank Vogel in Los Angeles, he showed enough potential as a head coach previously to take a chance.
The second name mentioned by Haynes in the wake of the news, Lloyd Pierce oversaw a rebuild operation in Atlanta and was fired halfway through this season before he could see it come to fruition. Pierce lost the locker room there and the Hawks played great after his dismissal and are currently on the verge of reaching the second round of the playoffs, so Pierce's stock is not very high right now.
Still, he's worth a look. He made the best of a bad situation in Atlanta for a few years and should be credited at least in part for how the Hawks' young core came around. The heights a Pierce-led team can reach is certainly in question, but the Celtics are good enough that they don't necessarily need a boom-or-bust coach. Pierce could be steady, and that may be enough.
Jeff Van Gundy
If an NBA head coach position is open, a Van Gundy will be linked to it. Given that Stan is currently coaching the Pelicans, we'll go with his analyst brother Jeff. The last time Van Gundy coached, he oversaw a Houston Rockets team featuring Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. So it's been a while. But with a lifetime head coaching record of 430-318, Van Gundy appears to be a reliable option in the head coaching pool that the Celtics will be dipping into.
There are, of course, obvious questions about how Van Gundy would do on the sideline again after spending the last 14 years in the analyst chair. The game has changed rather significantly since he was coaching, what with the advent of three-pointers and the death of the true center. But he has a longer resume than most other candidates will and the Celtics might not be looking to make a splashy hire after a tumultous season. It doesn't seem likely, but don't count it out.
Now this would be a fun narrative moment, wouldn't it? Kenny Atkinson took his first head coaching job in 2016 with the Nets, taking over a terrible team dealing with the aftermath of the notorious Billy King trade that gifted the Celtics their two best players in Brown and Tatum. Atkinson resigned in March of 2020 after the team transformed following the signing of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. He's currently in Los Angeles, sitting next to Ty Lue on the Clippers' bench.
Atkinson was tagged as one of the league's up-and-coming coaches before his surprising decision to step down last year. He made a bunch of very, very bad Brooklyn teams more competitive than they deserved. He's a good schemer and from all accounts had a great relationship with all his players pre-Irving and Durant. He will get another shot at some point if he wants it. The question is if he's willing to go to another star-laden team like Boston, even if the personalities in the locker room are different than what he left behind in Brooklyn. He's one of the better choices on the table.