One of the story lines in the first round playoff series between the Cavaliers and Celtics is the impact of the young, basketball genius coach of Boston, Brad Stevens.
This isn’t to say Stevens hasn’t earned his reputation as one of the game’s best young minds.
He took a mid major program in Butler, from the same league as Cleveland State, to the NCAA Tournament Championship game two years in a row, losing to Duke and Connecticut, two of the sports’ power programs.
That said, in the first loss by a 61-59 score to Coach K’s Blue Devils, Stevens had the best player on the floor in Gordon Hayward, who averaged 19.3 points per game for Utah this season.
Getting to two straight finals is a tremendous accomplishment to be sure, and to do it without multiple McDonald’s All American high school players shows Stevens did a great coaching job.
And he’s done a very good job this year in Boston. Let’s face it, there isn’t one player who starts for the Celtics that would start for the Cavs, yet, the Celts had the second best record in the Eastern Conference after the all-star game.
Only the Cavs were better.
So Stevens has done a tremendous job with limited talent of getting the most out of his talent and getting his players to buy in and play hard every night.
He’s made his teams over achieve.
We will never know that about David Blatt as long as he has LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love on the roster.
So, the narrative is that Stevens is a better coach, the boy wonder of basketball, and he will out scheme Blatt and keep his team in every game.
That’s not fair to Blatt.
Heck, for all we know, Stevens may be the heir apparent to Larry Brown as the best basketball mind in the country, but the comparison with Blatt isn’t a fair one because the Cavs’ coach has the talent, and hopefully (for fans and Blatt alike), we will never find out what kind of record he could squeeze out of the Boston roster.
And when you coach a very talented team, it is very difficult to get credit, or be considered a coaching genius.
Gregg Popovich gets a ton of credit because of the way the San Antonio Spurs play, and because people refuse to acknowledge that Tim Duncan is one of the game’s all time greats. And Popovich has gotten a lot out of guys cast aside by other teams, like Boris Diaw, Danny Green, etc.
We have always “pooh-poohed” Phil Jackson’s coaching greatness because he never coached a team that didn’t have a great player on it. All of his title teams had Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and/or Kobe Bryant on the roster.
Blatt will never get any credit for the Cavaliers being successful because LeBron James is on the team, and he’s still the best player in the league.
Perhaps if he had the team he was hired to coach (no James, no Love) and guided the wine and gold to the playoffs, he would have the reputation as a great coach. But he didn’t. That doesn’t make him a coach who isn’t competent, it just makes him fortunate.
Even if the Cavaliers win a title this summer, the credit will go to the players. And the only credit David Blatt will get will be that he didn’t screw it up.