The promised thoughts on a few of the biggest sports news of the holiday week.
Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics.
I was walking into a local brewery to fill growlers for the weekend last Wednesday when I got a text asking what I thought about the move. My first response was “Holy shit!” There were no rumbles here in Indy that Stevens was interested in, or talking to someone about, an NBA job. Since his rise a few years ago, he’s turned down Oregon, Missouri, and most notably UCLA, who he actually had contract discussions with. It seemed like he was happy sticking at Butler until either the Indiana job opened up one day, or until he was ready to retire. After all, at only 36 he could bide his time until Tom Crean moved on from Bloomington and still have a nice, long career as the Hoosiers coach even if it doesn’t happen for another ten years.
But after the shock wore off and I thought about it more,, the more taking an NBA job made sense. The rumor has always been that Stevens doesn’t like the recruiting side of college basketball. That may well be true, but if/when he did chose to take a BCS-level job, that task would become much easier than it is at Butler, where he still has to wait for IU, Purdue, Ohio State, Louisville, Michigan State, and Michigan to pick through the top local talent each year. But maybe there’s more truth to it than I originally thought.
And as many have noted, his analytic interests are more in line with the direction the NBA is moving. I’m not expert on the advanced statistics that several organizations are using, but it seems like there is more opportunity to implement that coaching/team building style at the professional level than in college, due both to the longer season and the ability to build a roster that will stay together for an extended run.
There’s also a big difference in what coaches do at each level. You run the whole thing in college, from recruiting to teaching to managing a roster full of late teenagers/early 20-somethings. In the NBA, you may still play an integral role in building the roster in the off-season, but much more of your efforts are spent installing plays, scouting, building game plans, and then managing the game. I think Stevens views the NBA as a series of riddles that can be cracked with the proper amount of study and preparation and attention to detail. The NBA game fits how his mind works and where his interests are better than the college game. Or at least he views it as more of a challenge, I think. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be super successful, or never coach in college again. But it does, perhaps, explain why he politely turned down every program that has offered him a job since he took Butler to its first title game appearance in 2010.
I love the enthusiasm of a few KU fans who pointed out how this could work out perfectly for KU. Stevens goes to Boston, tries to build a winner, but fails. Gregg Popovich retires in San Antonio while Stevens is in Boston. Bill Self’s buddy RC Burford, the GM in San Antonio, hires Self to replace Pop. Stevens is fired by the Celtics just as KU needs a new coach. I give those folks credit for thinking waaaaay ahead.
Pacers Summer Moves
Since we’re talking NBA, a quick look at the moves the Indiana Pacers have made so far. They entered the off-season needing to re-sign David West and strengthen their bench, which was pretty putrid last year. They got the D-West deal done quickly, which was the most important thing.
The bench will get an automatic lift if Danny Granger is healthy next year. Granger will either be a super-sub and give the bench a starter-level talent, or Lance Stephenson will move back to the second unit and boost them after his terrific 2012-13 season. I think having Granger on the bench is the best way to ensure Paul George takes the next step to superstar next year, but either option makes the bench better.
Last week the Pacers shored up the backup point guard position by signing CJ Watson. He’s not great, but he should be an improvement over DJ Augustin. Then they snatched Chris Copeland away from the Knicks. Copeland killed the Pacers in a couple games of their playoff series with the Knicks. If he can keep shooting the way he did last year, over 45% from three-point range, it’s a good signing. But I always worry about guys with a lot of size who become perimeter focused. Then again, the Pacers had no bench shooting last year, so it’s a risk they had to take.
Finally, they rescinded their qualifying offer to Tyler Hansbrough. Psycho-T plays hard, and still surprises me by having some decent moments. But for the most part he’s overmatched and hurts the team more than he helps. Last year’s #1 pick Miles Plumlee should slide into Hansbrough’s spot. I don’t expect much from Plumlee, but he’s taller and a better athlete. So perhaps he can fill those minutes more effectively than Psycho did.
All-in-all, nothing dramatic but pretty solid moves by the Pacers. They kept the starting unit intact by re-signing West, have added some bench depth, and should get a lift if Granger can get healthy. Is it enough to win game seven in Miami? Hopefully we’ll find out next June.
Finally, kudos to Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez for making the American League All-Star team. I know I was shocked when I saw two Royals position players were selected. Gordon absolutely deserves it, despite tailing off a bit in June. Sal is a little more debatable, but it’s not a complete travesty he made it or anything.
With under a week until the All-Star break, the Royals are sitting at two games under .500, only six games out of first place. I think making a run at Detroit is silly to hope for. But maybe staying in shouting distance of .500 isn’t that crazy to wish for. I’m checking scores more than I was three weeks ago. If they can keep it together this week and not lose four of six or something like that, I may have to start watching games again after the break.