How responsible is Brad Stevens for the Celtics' failings this season?

In my last article I wrote about the Celtics’ recent struggles and posed the question of whether Danny Ainge should be held responsible. In case you missed the article you can read it *here*. Since that article the Celtics have gone 1-1, beating the Nuggets but falling short against the Hawks. In it I came to the conclusion that while Danny isn’t directly responsible at this point in time, he is still on the hot seat, and if he doesn’t make some moves to improve the team by the time the trade deadline passes that he should be held accountable. Judging by the feedback many of you gave me I can tell that a lot of people disagree with me. Some suggested that the liability falls not only on Danny’s shoulders, but also on Brad Stevens. You know now that I do not put the blame on Danny (yet), but I can agree that Brad is culpable for the lack of success, however he is still not the sole source of failure.

I will address the main points of concern that I see myself and that other fans have pointed out, but before diving into what Brad should and shouldn’t be held accountable for, I have to note that around the same time my article about Danny went out he stated that he does take at least partial responsibility for what has been happening this season. What he essentially said is that this team shows a lack of heart, and that he is responsible for who is on the team. He followed up by saying that it might be time for him to switch those faces up. In that sense I can agree with him, although in my opinion this is Danny’s slightly backhanded way of motivating the players who fail to show up in games. It also serves as a great transition into my first, and main criticism of Brad Stevens.

Playing with Heart

Like Danny said, this team has a lack of heart. They used to play with a chip on their shoulder and an underdog mentality when they were being led by Isaiah Thomas. For a short while after he had been traded, they still showed some tenacity between Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris, but that tenacity seems to be lost these days. Marcus Smart, the emotional leader of the team has been sidelined with a calf tear, and the team is definitely missing him and his energy on the court. Kemba, another expressive leader on the team has been dealing with some struggles of his own in terms of finding his rhythm. Similarly, Tristan Thompson has been described as a dog (unrelated to his situation with the Kardashians) but has failed to show that in games. Who else could be a motivator? Jaylen and Jayson are both seen as leaders of the team but neither of them is particularly expressive, or at least not visibly. Theis is too busy being forced to fight with the refs over foul calls. The rest of the players are either young and inexperienced or they’re Jeff Teague.

That just leaves Brad Stevens. You know, the head coach of the team? Brad’s main failing is not being able to light a fire under the team’s ass when they really need it. I’m with all of you that roll your eyes every time you see his usual comments after every loss, “I saw a lot of encouraging things in that game.” Losing by 30 points to the Knicks is not encouraging in any way. Dropping close game after close game and the inability to hold a lead is not encouraging. Brad is known for being very stoic and composed during and after games, but it seems like that just isn’t cutting it anymore. Brad needs to be held accountable for not holding his players accountable. If he doesn’t show any emotion, then how can he expect his players to? I can appreciate Brad’s professionalism, but I find it hard to believe that he doesn’t see the lack of drive on the court. It’s possible that he hides it from the public but brings it in practice. If so, maybe there are more failings within the team that we don’t know about but based off of what we can see Brad is the main point of focus in this regard.

Defensive Lapses

As a direct result of the lack of heart is the lack of defense. In years past Brad has been able to make defense a staple of the team while hiding undersized defenders like IT. This year the Celtics are currently 9th in Defensive rating at 110.2, which isn’t bad. Last year however, they were 4th with a rating of 106.5. Actually, this year’s rating is the team’s worst under Brad Stevens. The next worst is from 2 years ago at 107.0, 6th in the league. Now the season isn’t over yet and the team has definitely been missing Smart and maybe even a bit of Romeo Langford on the court. 

That being said, it seems like every time they try to get back into a game they can’t ever string together stops on the defensive end. Just last night they cut the Hawks lead down from 13 to 6 with 2:38 left in the game, but immediately gave up two layups to Trae Young and let the lead bubble back up to 10, losing the game by 8 in the end. There are constant miscommunications and mismatches that allow opposing teams free buckets while the Celtics usually end up relying on heroics from the Jays, especially when it comes down to closing out games. If we were to look at the game in halves the Celtics have the 4th best defensive rating in the first half but the 8th worst in the second half. I am not close enough to the team to tell you if this is a fault with the play calling or inexperience, but I don’t have to be an expert to see that there is a lack of effort. Again, this falls on Stevens to play the players who give 100% on every possession.

Lately we’ve been seeing more minutes from Aaron Nesmith, the 14th pick in this year’s draft. The recent uptick in playtime is probably a direct result of his effort. In the past two or three games he has been putting his body on the line to get blocks, steals, and loose balls. He’s always moving and while he still hasn’t found his offensive touch in the NBA yet, he is working for his minutes off the bench. Hopefully, this is Brad’s way of saying that he won’t tolerate the lack of effort anymore. Nesmith has already had 15 DNPs this season, maybe attributed to his lack of experience and disappointing offense thus far, which leads into another complaint many fans have with Brad’s coaching style.

Draft Pick Development and Minute Distribution

This is one area in which I will defend Brad Stevens. A common criticism of Brad is that he does not give the rookies enough minutes to develop. Considering what our roster has been over the past years we haven’t exactly had minutes to throw around. It’s hard enough balancing minutes between Kemba, Jaylen, Jayson, and Marcus. That could only have been harder with Gordon Hayward last year, so finding time for 5 new rookies isn’t so simple when making a push for a championship. Obviously, this year’s team has taken a step back, and Covid and injuries have opened up more opportunities that likely wouldn’t be available with last year’s roster. That’s why we’ve seen increased minutes from the likes of Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, and now Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith.

Still, we can’t forget that although it doesn’t always look like it, this team is still trying to win games. Brad can’t waste time in hope that an extra 5 or even 10 minutes help the development of the younger guys. Real game opportunities are obviously an important factor in development, but there aren’t enough minutes to go around while also giving the team a good chance to win. Pritchard is a perfect example of this. He originally started at best 4th on the depth chart at the point guard position. The inconsistency of Jeff Teague, the injury to Marcus, Kemba’s late start to the season, and the fact the Payton has been outplaying Carsen and Tremont in every regard is exactly why he is now the first option off the bench. He is 7th in the team in minutes at 21.5 per game, which is remarkable considering he was the 26th pick in the draft. It goes to show that Brad is willing to distribute the minutes to the players who prove that they can impact winning.

Ball Movement

This is an area where Brad can share some blame, but it ultimately comes down to the players. The team is currently 28th in the league in terms of assists per game, which is laughable. They’re averaging 22.1 on the season, with 24.3 in wins and 19.9 in losses. The lack of assists is a combination of ball movement and shot making, or rather a lack thereof. You might be able to point some fingers and say that Brad doesn’t set up enough plays to get shooters open, but the team is also lacking consistent shooters. This year more than ever is a year where we have to rely on star power since the bench is not very well rounded. Kemba, Jaylen, and Jayson are all scorers. They need their touches, and they all shoot in volume. As a result, the team ends up with a lot of iso plays where the ball sticks and only sees one side of the court, factoring into the low assist numbers. If those guys have off nights or have to miss games, then the team’s chances of winning drop drastically, which leads to my last point.

Injury Management

Our top-5 lineup of Kemba, Smart, Jaylen, Jayson, and Theis have only played a total of 21 minutes together this season, something that isn’t exactly under Brad’s control. We’ve had at least 2 players on the injury report (or now better known as Romeo Langford's supporting cast) all season. The shortened season has forced the NBA to bring back mass back to backs, and Kemba is still managing his knee injury, keeping him out of the second nights of back to backs. 

Covid sidelined almost half the team at one point, including Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams. Tatum says that he is still feeling the effects of it and gets fatigued more quickly now. Marcus tearing his calf was a huge blow to the team. Luckily, it wasn’t as serious as it initially seemed, but he will still be sidelined long term, and you can probably expect the team to be cautious with him even when he does come back. All of this compounds together to paint an ugly picture for the team’s record but cannot be pinned on Brad Stevens. It’s something that a lot of people, myself included, tend to overlook when they see the team sitting at .500.


As I’ve said before, and now Danny Ainge has said, this team doesn’t look like a championship team right now. Injuries, however, can make things look worse than they are. Danny is going to need some changes before the trade deadline if we want to get back to being real competitors. The players are going to need to step up and roll with the punches. Brad Stevens has to be the one to put all the pieces together and make it work. Everyone can share some responsibility, and Brad is a huge part of that, although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he needs to be fired if he can’t get it done this season. Seeing that he just recently got a contract extension I wouldn’t say that he is on the hot seat, but the team only goes as far as he takes them. Sheer star power won’t get it done anymore. Brad needs to find a way to pull this team up and push them forward. The Celtics look to get revenge against the Hawks in Boston tomorrow night, a key game in showing how well they respond to adversity. We’ll have to wait and see what adjustments Brad makes, if any. 

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