This is Chess not Checkers: Brad Stevens on rebuilding Boston's identity
The Boston Celtics from 2007 – 2013 hung their hats on many things: strong defense, irrational confidence, other worldly smack talk, and ubuntu. This era of the Boston Celtics held three first ballot Hall of Famers at its core with an outer layer of up and coming players flanked by a rotating supporting cast of role players and veterans. This system worked largely in part to everyone knowing their role.
Talking heads will often describe the roles of GMs and head coaches as working on a puzzle; making sure all the pieces fit together. The Doc/Big 3 era wasn’t as difficult as a jigsaw puzzle – it was more like Tetris. Pierce, Garnett, Allen/Terry were those large rectagonal pieces easy to build the structure of the board around. They fit nicely and gave stability to any situation and allowed those hard to fit pieces like Rondo, Bradley, Bass, and Green, the chance to contribute without disrupting the rest of the game.
With those stabilizing pieces now calling Brooklyn home, it’s safe to say that the game has changed. The good news is Boston doesn’t have to play Tetris anymore. The 2013-14 Celtics don’t have to morph themselves into the molds that worked in the past. It’s a whole new game night for the Rondo Squad. For the foreseeable future, the Celtics are playing Jenga.
As he eluded to during Celtics Media Day, new head coach Brad Stevens is going back to basics and laying new groundwork for the 2013+ Celtics. For all the things Doc Rivers was, his greatest attribute was managing egos. As Stevens began to unfold his game plan for the media, it is becoming apparent that fundamental identity of this team is going to be building on what works best, moving the weak areas to further strengthen the unit as a whole, and build a fluid system that will adapt to challenges. You know… just like in Jenga.
“I think on one end of the court, we want to be as tough to score on as possible,” said Stevens. “Obviously we’re going to have a man-oriented system, man with zone principles, not that much dissimilar from some of the better teams in the league defensively, what they try to do. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be there, it doesn’t mean we’re a long way from being there, but from a technical and tactical standpoint that will be a big emphasis – creating that identity. The best team-builder you can have is not an exercise that you do at night, together, at a putt-putt course or whatever the case may be. It’s getting really good defensively. It’s doing a really hard thing together, it’s building that bond that way. So that’s going to be a big, important part.
“And then I think we have to space the floor and play with space. So whether that means we’re getting it up the floor – obviously we want to play in transition. But when we’re in the half-court, I think the ball has to move. I think we have to play with pace. I don’t know that we’ll be at our very, very best if we’re isolated early in the shot clock.”
The hope here is that in a guard and small forward heavy team, the New Look Celtics are going to be a team structured on the idea of picking up slack when slack is created. Looking for ways to create a system that will be easy for (the man who would be) captain Rajon Rondo to plug into once he is back at full capacity.
“The hope is that with Rondo’s transition back to play being on the way … that he can get back into it pretty fluidly once he comes back,” Stevens said. “But I feel pretty good about it. I feel pretty good about the way we’re going to play defensively. I feel good about our plan of attack offensively. I think it will allow us to be versatile, it will allow us to move guys around when (Rondo) comes back. I think that’s all been something that we’ve been spending a lot of time on over the last two months.”
While the Tetris era Celtics and Jenga era Celtics could not be further from each other from a roster stand point, the largest fears remain the same – toppling over at the worst possible moments (see the road to the post-season from 2009-2013). Luckily for Boston, the new architect of this project is focusing on securing a strong, defensive base first so that in the event one piece gets lost, the entire structure won’t collapse.
Source: Jay King, MassLive
Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports
Follow Padraic O’Connor on Twitter @padraic_oconnor