Updated: Jun 4
Shortly after yet another heartbreaking defeat for the Red Sox in the 2003 American League Championship Series, then Team President Larry Lucchino famously declared, “We will not rest until we bring a World Series Championship to Boston.” That’s Bold.
Lucchino struck the exact chord that championship starved Red Sox fans needed to hear. That statement showed confidence in his team and organization, along with a commitment to the generations of traumatized Red Sox fans he served.
Compare that to how you feel after Brad Stevens’ public comments this week, following the Celtics demise in the Eastern Conference Finals yet again. The air of complacency coming out of the Celtics office is not only concerning but eye-opening and revealing.
Championships favor the bold not the complacent.
All the while, the Celtics President of Basketball Operations is striking an oddly content and complacent tone directly following a massive organizational failure. If you are a championship driven Celtics fan you should be worried because the head of the basketball operation sounds like he isn’t. Words absolutely matter and public comments matter even more. What matters even more are actions. Following Brad Stevens’ public remarks last week however, it doesn’t sound like the actions many fans are craving, after yet another postseason shortfall, are forthcoming either.
In New England, we know what success looks like. We know what champions look like and we know what leadership looks like. As talented as these Stevens-Tatum-Brown-Smart era Celtics are and as close as they have come, they simply have not shown that familiar championship look that we all know so well. You know the look, the one that instills your ultimate belief that your team actually can do it.
Again, championships favor the bold not the complacent. Here are some examples…
When a 29-year-old Theo Epstein, traded one of the most prolific Red Sox players of his generation for $0.75 on the dollar, that was bold. This was the rare case when the team trading the best player in the deal, won the trade. Epstein dealt Red Sox phenom Nomar Garciaparra away for three silver pieces to fill some glaring holes. $0.25 worth of Dave Roberts for speed off the bench. $0.25 worth of Orlando Cabrera for much need defense at shortstop. $0.25 worth of defense at first base in the form of Doug Mientkiewicz. In terms of value, Epstein overpaid to get exactly what he needed. Simultaneously, he rid the clubhouse of his increasingly disenfranchised star. The time had come for Nomar to be moved out and the needs that that contending Red Sox team had were real. So, Epstein made the deals. The rest is history. Bold.
In 2001, Bill Belichick, who less than a decade earlier, immersed himself in seismic quarterback controversy in Cleveland, took on another face first and without a shadow of doubt in his conviction. At Belichick’s decision, a young and winning Tom Brady would carry his franchise for the rest of the season. This happening even as the team’s Pro Bowl starter of eight plus years, Drew Bledsoe, was ready to return. Belichick stuck with Brady and that decision led directly to the Patriots first Super Bowl Championship in the organization’s history.
Five more Super Bowl Championships and three additional Super Bowl appearances would follow. Smart, decisive and at the time, most certainly bold. Particularly considering Belichick’s experience amidst quarterback controversy. A bold stance for sure. Incidentally, he got that first one in Cleveland right too.
When Danny Ainge took over the Celtics prior to the 2002 season, he was taking over a team that reached (wait for it) …the Eastern Conference Finals. Ainge, always championship driven, upon arrival realized an unsettling reality, that this Celtics team wasn’t good enough to go all the way. So, he blew it up. Started from scratch and built a team that would lead to its eventual 17th championship in 2008. That’s bold.
Celtics Principal Owner, Wyc Grousbeck, naming his holding company “Banner 17” as a symbol of his championship commitment to the Celtics was also bold.
When the Boston Bruins finally left their incestuous organizational nest to bring in a different perspective to form the next age for the Bruins, that was a gargantuan separation from the norm of an entire generation of Bruins hockey. In May 2006, Peter Chiarelli's hire from Ottawa as General Manager, marked the first time that someone that was not bred under Harry Sinden or Harry himself was not leading the Bruins hockey operation in well over three decades. Given the convenient and dare I say lazy nature of how the Bruins had been run for several years prior, this was a massive operational change. A commitment to change is always…bold. This bold move would result in the Bruins first Stanley Cup Championship just five years later, their first in 39 years.
If the Celtics are truly championship driven, then the tone set by Brad Stevens this week was absolutely the wrong one. The tone he set was one of complacency and contentment with their standing. If the Celtics are truly championship obsessed like their fanbase, then this was an epic message fail. Worse, I’m worried about the tone that message sets or has been set within those Garden walls these last several years. Time and again, we’ve seen the Celtics check out on the floor when the opportunity to seize the moment has been right in their grasp. It has been amongst the most frustrating patterns to follow in my lifetime of passionately following Boston sports.
Brad Stevens can be an asset to any organization, basketball or otherwise. He’s intelligent, thoughtful, well-reasoned and rationale. He’s a steadying force that has a calming and nurturing impact on the organization. However, the tone he set this week worries me, particularly for a team construct that is so close to winning it all. Is his message the one this team needs to follow? After his words this week, I’d sadly say no.
Does his hiring and support of his young and not fully matured coach Joe Mazzulla instill belief in his vision? For me it does not. Moreover, when Stevens calls Mazzulla a “good leader” and states that “he’s accountable” I’d ask, to who? Mazzulla is better known for his short, snarky and defensive answers to the easiest of questions that dare to question his strategy; after a loss mind you. I fail to see the leadership or accountability there.
As I wrote above, Brad Stevens is and can be an asset to any organization he touches. I like the moves he’s made as GM too. The trades for Derek White and Malcolm Brogdon were absolutely brilliant strokes and well timed for where his team was at. Bravo. There is a big-time issue regarding the mindset permeating this Celtics organization however and based on what I heard this week from Stevens, I’m feeling it coming out of his office.
It’s time for the Celtics to be bold. They are close but unless the mindset from the executive offices to the sidelines to the floor changes, you can expect more of the same results for the postseason springs to come. Championship success clearly does not favor the complacent.