When Brad Stevens was the Boston Celtics’ head coach, the mantra as the trade deadline approached - build toward bringing another championship banner to Boston - never changed.
While he is in a different role now, the focus for him leading up to next month’s NBA trade deadline isn’t any different than it was for his predecessor Danny Ainge who resigned from his role as Boston’s president of basketball operations shortly after the 2020-2021 season concluded.
Ainge is back in the game though, after accepting a role as CEO and alternate governor with the Utah Jazz last month.
“It’s always the same goal here,” Stevens said in a one-on-one interview prior to tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls. “Whatever we do has to make sense…putting yourself in the mix to compete for the next banner.”
And as far as this being his first go-around as the Celtics’ top decision-maker on the basketball operations side of things, Stevens admits that newest is unique.
“But having lived it for eight years as a coach, you’re not aware of every conversation but you are aware of things as maybe more down the road,” Stevens said.
While the goal of bringing home a championship banner remains the focus for Stevens, achieving that won’t happen this year based on the team’s play and their needs which are more expansive than they have been in quite a while.
Boston has an established 1-2 punch in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, both of whom were named All-Stars last year but have at times struggled to work effectively in concert with one another.
Beyond those two, there are lots of roster questions and concerns going forward.
The Celtics’ young players have been symbolic of the team’s overall play this season - inconsistent.
And while the veteran additions to the roster such as Dennis Schröder, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford have provided depth, none have provided the kind of difference-making games to catapult the franchise beyond being a middle-of-the-road contender for a playoff spot in the East.
Indeed, the inconsistent play of the Celtics this season adds another wrinkle in Stevens’ efforts to improve the roster in a meaningful way leading up to the February 10 trade deadline.
“We’ve shown ourselves capable (of good play); a lot of teams have,” Stevens said. “Great teams are consistent. That’s ultimately what we’re shooting for. We haven’t been that yet.”
Nowhere is Stevens’ latter point more apparent, than the Celtics’ middle-of-the-road record (21-22) with no winning streak this season lasting more than three games.
Indeed, this season has been one filled with learning experiences for Stevens who replaced Danny Ainge as the team’s basketball czar after having spent the previous eight seasons as the Celtics’ head coach.
Stevens won 354 wins as the Celtics’ head coach, which ranks fourth on the franchise’s all-time wins list. The three coaches ahead of him - Red Auerbach, Tommy Heinsohn, and Doc Rivers - all won at least one NBA title as the team’s head coach.
Stevens did not.
But in his new role, the potential to put together a championship-caliber roster is very much a possibility.
To do so will require a level of creativity and successful hits via free agency and the draft, both of which have rendered mixed results in recent years for Boston.
Knowing how challenging it is to win at the highest levels in the NBA and do so for such a storied franchise as the Celtics, provides Stevens with a unique and important perspective in advocating and supporting first-year coach Ime Udoka who, like his players, has had a roller coaster of a season thus far.
“You can’t ride the highs and lows,” Stevens said. “But the bottom line, we both know we have to be more consistent, we have to be better…if we want to get where we want to get to. We’re just not there yet.”
And that is?
“Everything is driven by if we think it’s a good deal in helping us achieve what it is we want to achieve,” Stevens said.
And that is to win an 18th NBA championship, a goal that the Celtics could take an important step towards getting closer to achieving between now and next month’s trade deadline.