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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Former Butler coach Brad Stevens inherits a Boston Celtics team that just traded away most of its core and is in a rebuilding phase.

NBA odds against former Butler coach

There is news, and then there is news. And then there is, you know, news.

And so here we were at 5:45 or so Wednesday afternoon, six hours and change until Independence Day. And, hey, look at this: Fireworks.

Brad Stevens is going where?

No, not UCLA or Illinois or every college job that’s come open since Stevens took Butler to within one unsolved geometry problem – how did Gordon Hayward’s shot rim out, anyway? – of a national title. Stevens was your go-to candidate for all of them, and if he wasn’t, Shaka Smart of Virginia Commonwealth was. And always Stevens stuck with Butler.

Until now. Until Stevens decided to not just leave Butler but the entire solar system, at least in the hoops sense.

He’s goin’ to the Show. He’s goin’ to the NBA, to the Boston Celtics, ancestral home of Russell and Havlicek and Bird and the pungent aroma of Red Auerbach’s victory cigars.

It’s insane. It’s brilliant. It’s ... insane.

Look. There’s utterly no question that Stevens is one of the best people and brightest young minds in the game. But there’s also utterly no question that the track record for prominent college coaches transitioning to the NBA is not good.

It is, in fact, lousy. Like, 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers lousy.

The Sixers that year set a record for futility by winning just nine games, and Joe College isn’t far behind. Rick Pitino went 192-220 in six mostly fruitless seasons with the Knicks and Celts. John Calipari, meanwhile, lasted two seasons and 20 games with the Nets before fleeing back to campus after posting a 72-112 record.

Former Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo has been knocking around the NBA for years without making a noticeable splash; his career NBA record is 239-315. Larry Brown might be considered an exception to the rule, but he started out as a pro guy before winding up at UCLA and later Kansas, where he won a national title with Danny Manning.

Which might say more about the ability of pro coaches to transition to college than vice versa.

As for Stevens ... he’s got the X’s-and-O’s and probably the temperament for the pro game, but it remains to be seen if he’s up to the politics. Seventy-five percent of success in the NBA is finding stars and then getting them to buy into what you’re selling, and that will be Stevens’ biggest challenge.

So Job One, you have to think, is getting Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ lone remaining star, in his corner. If Stevens can form a bond with Rondo – a sometimes difficult proposition even for Stevens’ predecessor, Doc Rivers – he’s halfway to securing whatever meager job security there is these days for an NBA coach.

This will be a young, starter-kit team Stevens inherits, which likely will work to his advantage. It could also doom him if the new-look Celtics spend too much time wallowing around south of .500, which could very well happen.

Stevens will get some rope, given the circumstances. But it’s the NBA, and it’s Boston, so he likely won’t get as much rope as he would have at, say, UCLA or Illinois or Whatsamatta U.

Like that’s news.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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