Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens understands that roster change is inevitable for his team moving forward. Nothing in his first 22 months on the job would make him think otherwise, especially not after a season in which his team has carried 41 different roster players.
Assessing his team's ability to build off the progress made this season, Stevens recently stated, "We’ll see what our team looks like [next season]," then smiled before adding, "One of the things that we’ve learned is that that's fairly unpredictable."
But Stevens, who has made no secret of his admiration of the San Antonio Spurs and the team's sustained success, has often referenced a desire to establish what coach Gregg Popovich termed, "corporate knowledge."
Stevens has come back to that term often this season, particularly while enduring a turnstile roster, all with an undying hope to develop the sort of continuity and chemistry that has allowed the Spurs to avoid the downturns that all other NBA teams have endured.
Stevens first referenced corporate knowledge back in November before Boston's first matchup against the Spurs -- and before the team started its in-season roster overhaul.
"In our conversations -- and even publicly -- Popovich has talked about the benefits of continuity, the benefit of having those Big Three together through all the different people that have been here. I think that the term he uses, and I love the term, is 'corporate knowledge,'" explained Stevens. "So when you watch teams that have a culture and a continuity, then whoever is there, they know what they are doing, night in and night out. They know what pitfalls might occur and how to address them. They know how to handle success. They know they have probably had experience of not doing either well, and how to go about it the next time. We all admire that. First of all, Popovich is the best in the business. And then, secondly, he’s been there 18 years and those guys have been with him for a large part of that. And that really, really -- it’s a group working together in every way."
It's telling that Stevens came back to the idea of corporate knowledge after his team's season ended with a four-game sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.
"I’ve heard this term thrown around basketball circles some, but certainly other industries as well, it’s a great opportunity to build and extend our corporate knowledge," Stevens said when asked about the benefit of Boston's postseason foray. "Being able to reflect back on times where we guarded an action a certain way because we were forced to do so -- and being able do that on the fly, maybe, next time. Being able to adjust to how somebody else is guarding us better, because we can reflect back on it."
Roster change is inevitable in pro sports. The challenge for the Celtics' front office is establishing a nucleus with which to build that corporate knowledge and establish a system and culture that allows new players to fall in line when added to that core.
For all the talk of Boston's roster turnover, it's worth noting that 11 of the 15 players on the Celtics' season-ending roster started with the team in training camp, and six of those players had been here since Stevens arrived in July 2013. The Celtics made moves to add talent through the 2014-15 season -- bringing in the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome -- but kept in place a group the team would like to build with (even if it'll eventually part with some in the quest for more established talent).
The challenge for Danny Ainge and his staff this summer is not just to go land top-level talent to help this team elevate to another level, but to find the sort of players that can serve as a tent pole moving forward. That would give Stevens the ability to develop the corporate knowledge that he believes will further help Boston in its quest to become a sustained contender and give it an edge in a league of perpetual roster change.
Which brings us to the state of these Celtics heading into the offseason. Some readers were surprised to see that, in our Take 'Em or Leave 'Em exit polls, this writer suggested that the team should hold on to as many as 12 of the 15 players on the season-ending roster. To be certain, Boston's roster will endure far more turnover before this team returns to the court in September, but the initial steps should involve keeping much of the roster intact.
But it wouldn't be a surprise if the Celtics brought back, say, as many as 10 familiar faces next season. This group performed well together in the second half of the season. This team didn't possess the individual firepower necessary to get over the hump against a team like the Cavaliers, but the Celtics showed themselves well in simply being competitive for four games.
The Celtics don't need to overhaul this roster as much as some think to elevate toward being a true contender. Yes, the Celtics need more talent and that process is easier said than done. But if Boston makes the right picks in the draft -- the Celtics own selections Nos. 16, 28, 33 and 45 in June's pick-a-palooza -- and utilize their collection of assets to strike when an opportunity arises to land a star player, then you can't help but wonder what Stevens will be able to accomplish when his roster isn't changing every three weeks.
As one high-ranking executive recently told ESPN, "Just think of what [Stevens will] do if he can get some actual high-level talent."
Yes, a little bit of star power and a little bit of corporate knowledge could go a long way toward ensuring the Celtics aren't on vacation in late April in the future.