BOSTON — Brad Stevens is still getting used to his new job as the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.
He’s also keeping tight-lipped about candidates in Boston’s head coaching search. But once he’s made that hire and is done tinkering with the roster this offseason, one thing he promises his successor in advance is that he won’t intervene in day-to-day coaching decisions.
He’s got enough to do to get the Celtics back into the top tier of the Eastern Conference.
“We obviously have a really good foundation. And you have very talented young players, so I think that that’s a good place to be,” Stevens said Monday. “And then, it’s about finding the right fit. There are near-term decisions that can help you improve … and longer-term decisions that you have to make with the idea of being in the mix. And, ultimately, we want to be in the mix.”
That mission began last week when Stevens, who left the bench after eight seasons to succeed retiring front office chief Danny Ainge, executed his first major transaction of the summer by trading point guard Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City. The trade included sending the No. 16 overall draft pick in 2021 and a 2025 second-rounder to the Thunder and receiving Al Horford, 7-footer Moses Brown, and a 2023 second-round pick in return.
“It was an early deal, but it felt like it was the right one,” Stevens said. “Not easy. But the right one.”
Walker helped lead the Celtics to the conference finals in the Florida bubble last season. But ongoing knee issues limited him to only 43 games this past regular season and caused him to miss the final two games of Boston’s first-round playoff loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
“We felt that one of the things that we wanted was to be unencumbered moving forward and kind of have a road ahead,” Stevens said. “This was really hard. This was not the ideal first few weeks on the job move just because of the kind of person Kemba is, and the kind of professional he is, and how good of a player he is and continues to be.”
Walker was guaranteed more than $73 million over the next two seasons. Swapping his salary for Horford’s will save the Celtics around $9 million. Trading this year’s first-round pick also will provide Boston with more financial flexibility in coming years.
“The cost,” Stevens said, “was a person that you really, really like. And one first-round pick.”
The other, probably more pressing thing on Stevens’ agenda is identifying and hiring his successor as head coach.
ESPN reported that Bucks top assistant Darvin Ham, Nets assistant Ime Udoka and Clippers assistant Chauncey Billips have all been interviewed at least once.
Stevens didn’t confirm any of those names but acknowledged he’s received input from players currently on the roster, including All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
And once he selects a new coach Stevens said he plans to operate just like Ainge — be a sounding board and only intervene when asked.
“I’m just there to support them,” Stevens said. “I don’t know how good I can be at this job. That’s to be determined. I’m pouring everything into it. … It’s been nonstop for however many days it’s been now. But the one thing that I should be good at is supporting the head coach and not being involved.
“My door’s open, but I do not want to be, you know, anything but supportive.”
Story by Kyle Hightower.