BOSTON (AP) — For anyone expecting sweeping changes from the Boston Celtics this offseason, team president of basketball operations Brad Stevens is throwing a bit of cold water on that idea.
After a season in which the Celtics fell one game short of a return to the NBA Finals, Stevens said he sees a team in need of small tweaks, not massive disruption to the leadership or its young core.
“There was a lot that went right, and we can’t lose sight of that,” Stevens said Thursday during his season-ending news conference. “It’s not far. … It’s really hard to get in the mix. So, we just have to figure out how to be a little better.”
That will start at the top with coach Joe Mazzulla, who Stevens said will return after guiding the Celtics to 57 wins and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Asked directly if Mazzulla is the right person to lead the team going forward, Stevens was unequivocal.
“Yeah, I think he is,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a really good job with this group. Everybody’s going to overreact to the best players and coaches after every game. That’s always how it is. We know that going in, so we have to be able to judge things on the whole.”
That the team was able to finish the regular season second in both offense and defense and fight back from a 3-0 deficit in the conference finals is evidence of Mazzulla’s leadership, Stevens said.
Given the rapid-fire introduction Mazzulla received after being named interim coach just days before training camp, Stevens said he now measures Mazzulla’s head-coaching experience in dog years.
“He’ll only get better at anything that he can learn from this year, because he’s constantly trying to learn. And he’s accountable,” Stevens said. “When you can show all those things through the expectations and the microscope that he was under, that’s hard to do.”
Stevens said the Celtics do plan to add at least one assistant coach with extensive NBA experience on the bench this summer, filling the spot vacated when Damon Stoudamire left to become Georgia Tech’s coach in March.
As far as changes to the roster, Stevens said while they will always monitor the league landscape for potential additions that could help, he likes his team’s existing core.
Due to NBA rules that restrict what executives are allowed to say about players with pending contracts, Stevens declined to speak specifically on the decisions needed to me made this offseason involving Jaylen Brown (eligible to sign a five-year supermax extension on July 1) and restricted free agent Grant Williams.
“I’ve had nothing but great conversations with Jaylen,” Stevens said. “I can say, without a doubt, we want Jaylen to be here. He’s a big part of us. We believe in him and I’m thankful for him. … I’m really thankful that when those guys have success they come back to work. And when they get beat, they own it and they come back to work. And so I know that’s what they’re about. And that’s hard to find.”
Stevens believes Williams got caught in a numbers situation regarding his reduced time in the rotation this season.
“He is a good player who was on a really deep team,” Stevens said. “With the addition of (Malcolm) Brogdon last year it was going to require that guys that had gotten a little more opportunity weren’t going to get as much. That obviously hit a few of our players. … But everybody around the league knows Grant can add value to any team.”
Whatever happens, Stevens said, it will start with doing as little as possible to disrupt the infrastructure of a team he believes has the bones to be a championship team.
“At the end of the day we love our foundation. We love our core. And that’s really our focus and our priority,” Stevens said.
NOTES: Stevens said Tatum had “a pretty decent” ankle sprain in Game 7 but is feeling “a little better.” Brogdon, who dealt with a strained right forearm during the conference finals, has yet to decide whether to have surgery. Stevens said Derrick White’s knee injury in Game 7 was just a hyperextension and sprain.
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