LAS VEGAS -- Brad Stevens made his first public comments since the start of the free agency period on Tuesday night at the Cox Pavillion and did not sound like a man who just saw his two best players walk out the door in free agency.
"(Change) is part of it in the NBA, where we all try to be in our best positions for the upcoming season. I’m really excited about it," he said.
The head coach has been handed a revamped roster following the departures of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier in free agency. He could not comment on a number of new additions until those signings became official but he refused to throw shade at anyone walking out the door, including the player that went back on his commitment to Boston in Irving.
"I don’t know there’s anything anyone individually necessarily feels like they should have done or could have done," Stevens said when asked if he wishes he could have done anything different with Irving. "That’s part of free agency. You can go where you want at the end of the day.
"I enjoyed Kyrie. I like Kyrie, and I wish him nothing but health and success. I think anytime you go through a year like we went through, where you don’t necessarily meet expectations – on some years that might be a good year but on others it’s not — I think there’s probably going to be some change. And I don’t fault him one bit for choosing to follow whatever he wants to do. That’s his right."
Like the rest of us, Irving spent much of the offseason uncertain about Irving's status before July 1st. He said he had not talked to the point guard much since the season ended and kept his thoughts cordial when reflecting upon the two seasons with the All-Star.
"I don’t really look at it from the standpoint of where we lost, what part of the season we lost in. It’s just you spend two years together, you wish him well and you move on," he said.
Part of the blow in losing Irving has obviously been cushioned with the addition of Kemba Walker, who will slot into Irving's starting role. Stevens has a long history with the point guard dating back to UConn-Butler battles in the NCAA Tournament and is eager to see how he fits in Boston.
"He’s one of those kids – I watched him play in high school," Stevens said. "He’s always been a special competitor and that’s gonna be fun. Not easy to not be in the place he was for the first eight years of his career, and choose to go someplace else. We’re excited that he’s on board, and we’re excited to get to work."
The fact that Walker chose Boston over his other options in free agency also made Stevens feel grateful that the franchise still holds appeal with top names.
"I think we’ve been fortunate," Stevens admitted. "Obviously, this past year didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but for the better part of this time it’s gone pretty darn well and so we’ve actually been fortunate to have had that be the case more often than not. Obviously with Al a few years ago and Gordon and Kemba and others that have chosen on lesser deals to come. So Boston’s a special place, it’s a special place to play and we’re excited about it. And he’s a neat guy so I’m looking forward to having him on board."
Stevens also gave a fond farewell to Horford while avoiding questions about what kind of offer the Celtics gave the big man before departing to Philadelphia.
"I’ll let Danny answer all those questions because those are all monetary questions," he said. "I’m not privy to all those conversations. Obviously, Al was great here. We loved Al, we wanted him back. Again, it’s his choice. He can go do what he wants to do and there’s a lot of factors that end up helping these guys making those decisions. But he’s a heck of a player and did a great job here in the three years he was here."
Without their defensive anchor and Aron Baynes out the door, the pressure is going to be on Stevens and his coaching staff to mix and match on the front line and try to re-make a largely inexperienced roster into a top contender in the East.
That’s going to be the thing we’re going to have to be really good at," Stevens said of the defensive adjustment. "Obviously, we’ve been really lucky most of the last five years to be a good defensive team and it’s always given us a chance to win. We’re just going to have to really commit to that. There’s going to be times where we’re much smaller than we’ve been and there’s going to be times where we’re asking guys to do some things they haven’t done as much. But that’s part of repping it, building good habits and getting ready to play. We’ve got a lot of guys that will play in the World Championships for all their respective countries and we have a number of guys that will be in Boston a good deal of time. And some of them have already been quite a bit, and that’s good too."
The work starts now for the head coach as he continues to evaluate what the team's youth in summer league can bring to the next level. With Irving in the rearview mirror, Stevens is ready for the next chapter.
"I like to work pretty focused the first month after the season rather than taking time off so that I can really dial into it while it's still fresh in my mind," Stevens said. "I did that again and like I said, it's been good. It's probably no different than any other year. You learn a lot, move on and try to get ready for the next one. Now, I'm excited about the next one."