Stunning. That has to be considered the best way to describe news coming from the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge has opted to resign after spending nearly the past two decades in the organization’s front office.
Head coach Brad Stevens will give up that role to replace Ainge as the chief decision-maker for the Celtics. All of this comes one day after Boston was eliminated in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs by the Brooklyn Nets in five games.
It’s a tectonic shift for the Boston Celtics following a disastrous season in which they finished .500 during the regular year and had to win a play-in game in order to just make the playoffs. It’s also going to lead to widespread speculation about who Stevens will call on to replace him as head coach.
Right now, odds favor big names such as former NBA guards Sam Cassell and Chauncey Billups. However, we expect Boston to cast a wide net in its search for a new head coach. Here’s a look at five underrated candidates.
Boston Celtics hire Juwan Howard
Howard led Michigan to its first regular-season Big Ten title in seven years this past season, ultimately helping the program to the Elite 8. In the process, the former Wolverines star earned Associated Press Coach of the Year honors. This isn’t necessarily a huge surprise. After a 19-year career as a player in the NBA, Howard took on assistant coaching duties with the Miami Heat from 2013-19. He’s always been a head coach in waiting.
What makes the two-time NBA champion an underrated candidate is the fact that he’s more than happy in Ann Arbor. It was his dream job. It will also take a lot to pry Howard away from Michigan. With that said, the Boston Celtics are one of the most historical franchises in the Association. An opening of this ilk might happen once every decade or so. Will Howard pounce at the opportunity?
Boston Celtics hire Jay Larranaga
The 46-year-old Larranaga has been one of Stevens’ top assistants since all the way back in 2012. If the Celtics want to have a seamless transition on the bench, he might make sense. There’s also an experience factor here.
A former player overseas, Larranaga also served as an assistant for the Ukraine national team from 2013-15 and the head coach for Ireland (2008-10). He had also interviewed to replace Doc Rivers as the Celtics’ head coach back in 2013 before they settled on Stevens. This might make too much sense.
Boston Celtics hire Charles Lee
This might come out of left field to some, but Lee has been seen as an ascending coaching talent while working behind the respected Mike Budenholzer with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks over the past several seasons.
“Few assistant coaches saw a bigger season-to-season jump in our informal poll than Charles Lee, 35, who’s in his sixth season working under Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta and now Milwaukee,” ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz noted in an article recently. “Fans of Lee, who played professionally overseas before spending a couple of years as an equity trader on Wall Street, tout him as a five-tool coach.”
Still only 36 years old, Lee would be a potential long-term replacement on the bench for the Boston Celtics. Perhaps, he could also help the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown take their games to completely new levels after the duo dominated this past regular season.
Boston Celtics hire Jay Wright
This situation could very well be like Juwan Howard for Boston. It was just last year that Wright took his name out of the running for the Philadelphia 76ers head coaching job after they moved on from Brett Brown. Given Wright’s status as an absolute legend in Philadelphia with Villanova, why would he move on to Beantown? It would take a lot of convincing from Stevens and Co.
With that said, this would be the ultimate home run hire. Wright, 59, has earned two national titles since taking over in Villanova back in 2001. He’s also helped jumpstart the careers of some tremendous NBA players, the likes of Kyle Lowry included.
Boston Celtics hire Kara Lawson
San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is actually considered one of the top candidates from an odds perspective to replace Brad Stevens. She can’t be seen as an underrated candidate right now after interviewing for multiple head-coaching jobs in the past.
If the Celtics were to bring in a league-altering head coach, Lawson might be the best choice right now. She served as an assistant under Stevens in Boston from 2019-20 before taking the Duke Blue Devils head coaching job in 2020. Despite a COVID-shortened four-game run this past season, the Olympic Gold Medal winner and former WNBA champion has the respect of those around the NBA. This is a hire that could work.