Ladies and gentlemen, you’d think what we have here is a chicken or the egg scenario. If that’s your assumption than you’re incorrect. The question is simply, are teams great because of a great coach or do great players make a great coach? For instance is Phil Jackson a great coach? Or did he happen to coach Scottie and MJ and Shaq and Kobe?
Well, let’s look at the variables. Great players happen to be the variable in this scenario. Are there any examples of great teams that didn’t have great players?
Nick Saban is the best college coach, but he also tends to have the #1 recruiting class year after year. Then again, you can make the argument that his success on the collegiate level has lead to more players wanting to play for Bama. This is similar to Coach Cal with the Kentucky’s men’s basketball team. At the college level, recruiting is a big part of a teams overall success, so in this respect both of these coaches are great coaches.
This doesn’t debunk the myth that behind every great coach there are great players. Was Eric Spolestra a great coach before he coached Wade, Bosh, and Bron? Will he win a championship without those players?
There’s only one example of this that comes to my mind. The coach i’m talking about has succeeded at both the collegiate and professional level with a lesser degree of talent. This coach is President Brad Stevens. Let me add, Brad Stevens took Butler to back to back National Championship games.
Yes they had NBA players like Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward on the team, but it’s Butler for gods sake! They lost to Duke in one of the finals where Hayward missed the game tying shot, and then they went back to the championship the following year without Hayward.
What’s president Stevens up to nowadays you ask? Well, he’s representing the Eastern Conference All Star Game as the best coach in the East. He’s also got the Celtics eyeing the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The team is lead by a 5’9 PG named Isaiah Thomas. Nothing against him, but it’s the NBA, when you’re under 6ft tall it’s hard to be viewed as the reason a team succeeds. Although Thomas is having a remarkable year! Averaging 30 points per game and leading the NBA in 4th quarter scoring. By far!
The Celtics also have Al Horford, a do it all big that won a few national championships at Florida and then spent his prime on an Atlanta team that was never elite. Those 2 players are the most talented of the bunch on the C’s roster. The rest of the roster is filled with young players who hustle and work hard.
This brings me to an example of just why Brad is such a great coach. Last year, when the Warriors were setting records and blazing a trail to the NBA finals they played the Celtics toward the end of the year. I happened to be at that game at Oracle and had close enough seats to get a great insight to president Stevens excellence.
How do you beat the Warriors? When you’re the Celtics? You trust Brad. The Celtics played a tenacious game of hard D and hustle. When Steph hit back to back 3s, coach Stevens would call a time out and watch the crowd die down slowly. Then he’d draw up an out of bounds play that would lead to a layup.
It took some magic from Isiah Thomas as well, but at the end of the day the Celtics won. Against a team that broke the record for most wins in a season on their court. Stevens coached a remarkable game filled with well timed time outs and beautifully drawn up plays. In that instance I realized the Warriors were out coached.
The only way I can tell if a coach is great is if his team upsets a team with better players. For instance Clemson vs Bama this year. Dabo Swinney is great!
Another example of greatness is Bill Belichick. For everyone who is up in arms about me saying that, calm down! He wins regardless of who’s on his team. The only constant he’s had over the years is Brady. Name a coach who’s turned more un-drafted players into multi-millionaires!
Although Brad Stevens hasn’t won a championship (YET) he has already had a dramatic impact on the Celtics. He was originally hired for the future. The plan for the Celtics when Stevens was hired was to tank and make the team better through the draft. Stevens was SO good, he had them in the playoffs sooner than they expected.
That’s one of many reasons you should expect the Celtics to be excellent for the next decade or so. Great… another successful Boston franchise.