It happened again last week. Another athlete and another coach made decisions that moved them to new markets, new teams and new roles. Both were met with some skepticism, and one was met with tremendous criticism. Good riddance.
Give some credit to Brad Stevens and Dwight Howard for making the most of their opportunities and doing what’s best for them.
Brad Stevens is the new head coach of the Boston Celtics. The 36 year old Stevens is Boston bound after spending six years as the head coach of the Butler Bulldogs. Stevens’ success was nothing short of remarkable at Butler, getting to two NCAA Tournament Title games with the small school and consistently over-achieving at the “Cinderella” program.
With the success came notoriety. Stevens was constantly immediately tied to any potential college openings, and a lot of the talk about him was focused on what job he must inevitably be “holding out” for.
I mean, no one really expected him to stay at Butler forever, right? And would there be resentment from the college basketball community if and when he left for another college job? Or would he be praised for moving on to the next challenge, at a bigger program with more prestige, perhaps even to replace a legend?
In a surprising move, Stevens left for the NBA. The sports world seemed shocked, as news of the move didn’t leak until the two sides had the terms of a deal in place. Stevens’ move has been instantly compared to other failed jumps by college coaches to the NBA, the two most prominent being John Calipari and Rick Pitino.
Instead of seeing Stevens’ jump as the new challenge that he could have had at a college program, it is being painted as a move designed to fail, because of the failures of those before him and some highly-publicized disagreements.
The narrative changed, because people didn’t like it and didn’t expect it. Immediately, there seems to be diminished emphasis on Stevens’ Butler success, the exact success that would have been the reason why he would almost undoubtedly succeed at any college program across the country. Apparently that doesn’t translate to the NBA.
Whereas Stevens’ age was once seen as an asset, his youthful energy and wunderkind pedigree a remarkable asset, it’s now something working against him. “Those NBA players won’t respect a 36 year old” is the new storyline. Being counted out, similarly to his time at Butler.
Forget the fact that Erik Spoelstra was only a year older than Stevens when he was named the head coach of the Miami Heat in 2008, and had no head coaching experience. Not only has Spoelstra commanded the respect of an enigmatic Miami locker room, but he did it while needing to convince veterans and Hall of Famers to embrace new roles for the good of the team. And has two NBA Titles to show for it.
But sure, criticize Stevens for leaving the college game to coach one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, while having the chance to rebuild a team in his likeness, from the ground up, with the security of a reported six year, $22 million contract.
Dwight Howard also faced a choice, although one that played out publicly in the spotlight for the last few years, unlike Stevens. The often-criticized Howard was a free agent this offseason, and the assumption by many was that Howard would stay in Los Angeles with the Lakers. I mean, it’s the Lakers! How could anyone dare leave?
The simple answer? Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s Kobe Bryant and the Lakers organization. The bulletproof Bryant is showing no signs of slowing down, and seems determined to play at least a few more years. Bryant’s pitch to Howard didn’t seem like a pitch at all- it seemed like an assumption to go along with all the rest of the assumptions. “I’m Kobe, we’re the Lakers, let’s get this done.”
What was the pitch from Houston? A team built from the ground up, with its best years ahead of it. A young superstar in James Harden and the room to maneuver to add more. The fourth largest market in the country with a fanbase ready to explode. A real chance to win Titles, plural. Not assumptions, plural.
So Dwight decided to leave, to take his talents to Houston. And was again met with hindsight and resentment-fueled criticism. With holier than thou idiocy spewing not only from fans, but from media members.
Chris Dufresne of the LA Times led the parade of idiots, tweeting such nonsense as: “Dwight never had what it took to be a great Lakers center.Not a leader, fundamentally flawed. Couldn’t handle the pressure. Mid-market star.”
Also: “What “great” center turns down chance to be part of Lakers lore? Good news: we don’t have to watch him shoot free throws.”
I’m sorry that someone didn’t want to be a part of that wonderful lore, Chris. I’m sorry that Houston beat the Lakers. I’m sorry that Dwight wanted a new challenge, and that challenge didn’t have anything to do with an aging roster and a superstar who won’t give up the reigns.
Move on. Dwight already has, even leaving 30 million dollars on the table while doing so.
What are the similarities between Howard and Stevens? Folk trying to pigeon-hole other people’s priorities because they think they should follow a certain script, a certain path.
‘Lore’ or a chance to ‘be a part of history’ or a chance to ‘revitalize a sleeping giant’ is all well and good on paper, but ideals and lofty goals don’t satisfy some people they way they can a fanbase or media member. Or the way a paycheck can. Or the way a Title can.
Let’s remember that the next time you’re lighting your torch and polishing your pitchfork. Your priorities are the ones that should be questioned.