WALTHAM, Mass. – Brad Stevens is going to sleep on two things tonight. One is his hotel bed. The other is his starting lineup.
Boston’s rookie head coach opted not to release his starting lineup for Wednesday night’s season opener when he spoke to the media this afternoon. Instead, he reiterated the fact that all of his players will have their chance to shine over the first month of the season.
“I think I’ve got an idea (of the starting lineup), but I’m going to sleep on it to see,” Stevens said. “We’re going to play a lot of different guys. I think that there’s going to be opportunities for everybody over this stretch of November regardless of how much they play tomorrow night.”
Brad Stevens has said that he will not decide his starting lineup until Wednesday.
That quote set the table for the remainder of Stevens’ chat with the media. He was questioned several times about narrowing down his rotation to nine or so players, and he continued to state that doing so will be a process.
“The crazy part is I can get down to [a rotation], but it’s really helpful if they get down to it and they separate themselves in that regard and nine guys stand out above all others,” said Stevens. “It’s happened some, but it hasn’t happened consistently.”
Separation is what Stevens and his coaching staff have been searching for all preseason long. The Celtics entered training camp with a clear understanding that they had a roster of players who are very comparable to one another. That’s making life difficult on Stevens when it comes to narrowing down a starting lineup and rotation, but he looks at that issue with the glass half full.
“When you talk about depth,” he said, “depth can be a really, really good thing.”
Stevens elaborated on that notion shortly thereafter by saying, “I think that gives you the flexibility to decide on a given night, ‘You know what? We need so-and-so’s energy.’ Or we need a guy with size, in this circumstance, or maybe we want to go small, or maybe we need a guy on the wing who can score it a little bit better because we’re not able to manufacture shots within our system as well. I think you’re going to have to play all those different games over the course of the season, and it will start tomorrow.”
Not every coach would approach this situation with Stevens’ mindset. Some would come in thinking that they’d need to play the guys who are most established in this league in order to win games. Others may think that they’d need to play the young guys in order to evaluate them properly for their future with the franchise. Stevens is likely to use a mix of those two angles, all while leaving the competition wide open.
“I think there’s two things that I have to look at, from a standpoint that you’ve gotta be ready to play and put a team on the floor – you’ve got to make sure that you give yourself the best opportunity to win,” Stevens stated. “And then you have to be fair to the individuals. That doesn’t mean necessarily that if some guy scores 10 on a given night and another guy score six, that it’s automatically going to be the guy that scores 10 that gets to play, but you have to recognize when guys are making those strides to break into the lineup, and we’ll reward them appropriately.”
From the players’ perspective, the challenge is all about maintaining poise in the face of competition. There will be nights when some players log 30 minutes. There will be others when those same players log 15. Such is the nature of the beast on this team, and Stevens hopes that his guys will understand that in the heat of the moment.
“Anybody that doesn’t play is going to be disappointed that he didn’t play,” the coach said. “At the same time, it’s about just getting back in the gym and working and preparing yourself for that opportunity, because when that opportunity comes, then it’s do you take advantage of it or not?”
Players will be prepared to capitalize on those opportunities if they accept their coach’s challenge. They’ll fumble those opportunities if they close themselves off.
“The worst thing you can do when you don’t play as many minutes as you’d like is to sulk about it,” Stevens explained, “because when your time comes, you’re not as good and you’re not as ready and it probably won’t come as quickly.”
Five Celtics will have their names called as starters Wednesday night. Another handful of players will likely see significant minutes. We don’t yet know which Celtics will fill those roles, and as Gerald Wallace stated, neither do the players.
The competition will continue overnight as Stevens searches for separation in Dreamland.