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Ian Thomsen on D&C: Celtics ‘need to trade’ Rajon Rondo following ‘fascinating’ hiring of Brad Stevens

Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen joined the Dennis & Callahan show, with guest hosts Butch Stearns and Adam Pellerin, on Thursday morning to discuss the Celtics [1]‘ hiring of Butler’s Brad Stevens [2] to be their next coach.

Stevens, 36, reportedly was given a six-year, $22 million deal to oversee the rebuilding of the C’s.

“This was a real shocker, but it’s inspired,” Thomsen said. “They have a plan. It’s unlike any other team’s plan. I think they have a chance to make it work, so, good for them.”

Thomsen’s biggest concern is Stevens’ adjustment to an NBA that values its players far more than its coaches.

“I think the risk is you don’t know if he’s going to be any good,” Thomsen said. “It’s just a different world, a totally different world. It used to be that college coaches could make the jump to the NBA, because, as we all know, NBA players weren’t making that much money, they didn’t have that much power. When Red Auerbach [3] was coaching, there was no free agency. He had the final say over contracts. Everything was different.

“Now the players in the NBA have more control than the coaches, except for a few situations. So, for a college coach to come in — look, these college programs are all about the coach. It’s all about the coach. And the coach every day goes out there and makes sure everybody on the team knows that it’s all about him. It’s all about Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski [4]], it’s all about the other coaches, it was all about Jim Calhoun [5] at UConn.

“They come to the NBA and all of a sudden they don’t have that power over the players. The players have the power over them. It’s an entirely different situation. That’s why these college coaches that in the past have been hired to coach bad teams, they’ve been fired after a couple of years, it’s been disastrous and they’ve given the whole thing a bad name.

“Why I think this can be different is because they are giving him six years. Danny [Ainge] has replaced who is arguably the best coach that isn’t about to retire in the NBA, Doc Rivers [6], he’s chosen to replace Doc with this guy, who has no track record. So, they’re trying to build on what Doc developed by rekindling the whole Celtics tradition, and trying to build on that by hiring this guy.

“In most circumstances you would say it’s a big mistake. I would. I’ve been saying all along that it’s impossible for a college coach to make the jump and win in the NBA. But this is a different circumstance than all the others. They’re giving him a six-year commitment, so they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to be judging you after two years, and we’re going to be rebuilding the team anyway, but we’re going to be standing by you.’ None of that has happened for any of the college coaches coming in. So, this is different. He’s trying to build a program. he’s trying to develop the old traditions and keep them relevant in this modern age. I think it’s fascinating and it’s inspiring.”

Added Thomsen: “They’re trying to indoctrinate this guy in the Celtic way. To me, the Celtic way means something. It’s an ideal. It’s hard to believe that it can work in this day and age, but they’re trying to make it work, and good for them.”

Thomsen is convinced that the Stevens hiring spells the end of Rajon Rondo’s tenure in Boston.

“It just makes sense all the way around,” Thomsen said. “If they keep Rondo, then they will not bottom out, for starters. If you want to look at it cynically, they won’t lose enough games. They’ll win just enough games to not be terrible, but they’ll never have a chance to be good. They won’t have the means to go out and get the great players that you need in the NBA.

“But then the other part of it is, I just don’t see how he can be coached by a guy that’s never been in the NBA. Doc Rivers is known in the NBA for being the coach that can confront players, can work with them, can laugh with them, can yell at them, can do all these different things. It took everything Doc had to make it work with Rondo It took all of his experience, all of his wisdom, just to keep Rondo as a constructive member of the team. And Danny and Wyc [Grousbeck], they know that. They know that. So, I just don’t see how they would make this big investment with a young coach who’s never been to an NBA practice, and then put him with one of the smartest players in the league, a great player — Rondo has a lot going for him, but Rondo’s not going to put up with somebody who doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

As for where Rondo might end up, Thomsen said the Celtics will have a difficult time finding the right fit for the mercurial point guard, but he expects them to move him this summer.

“It’s a hard thing to get a market for Rondo anyway, because he does have this reputation of being difficult. And also because he’s just so different from all the other point guards out there,” Thomsen said. “He doesn’t shoot as well as they do. He’s like an old-style point guard. You need to change your offense around him. It’s like signing a different kind of quarterback in the NFL. It’s hard to create a market for him. He just doesn’t fit in to what you do; you have to change around him.

“I think there should be more teams that want to change around him, because they guy’s spectacular, he’s tremendous. We’ve all seen that, too. But it’s just hard to find a market for him.”

Added Thomsen: “They need to trade him. And Rondo needs a new start himself. It’s not good for him to stay here in this situation; better for him to go to a new place that’s gone through the rebuilding, that’s coming out the other end.”

Following are more highlights from the interview. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page [7]. For more Celtics news, visit the team page at weei.com/celtics [8].

On if the Celtics are tanking this season and how that strategy might work: “I really think it’s smart to try to be bad this year. And usually I’m against this whole idea of tanking. But I don’t think it’s going to be called ‘tanking’ here. I think it would be fairly called ‘development,’ because you’ve decided that you’re going to develop a team around the coach. You’re trying to build a program, which is unusual in the NBA.

“The Miami Heat [9] have a program, the Spurs have a program, and now the Celtics are trying to develop a program based on their values. So, why not, this year, try to do it. ‘€¦ Why not be bad this year when there’s a chance to get that great player? And really, it’s so rare to trade for one, like [Kevin] Garnett [10]. It’s even rarer to sign one as a free agent. So, to have a chance to draft one, to give yourself that chance, and even if you fail, if you can still get another good player out of it — and you weren’t going to win anyway. Why not develop now? It just all makes sense together. To me, you’re not selling out.

“The worst thing you can do is to trade good players in hope of winning the lottery. That’s not what they’re doing. That’s not what they’re doing. They’re not giving away stuff in hope of winning a lottery. It’s the other way around. They’re redeveloping the team around the coach. So, why not try to win the lottery?”

On if Rondo could change and become more a team player who could fit in with Stevens: “I just don’t think that’s who he is. And we saw it this year. They said, ‘You’re the leader,’ he wanted to be the leader, and they had a better record without him than with him. And the plus/minus worked against him. Anyway you look at it, he did not have a positive impact on the team. ‘€¦ I think we’ll know when they trade him, we’ll know that they knew him better than anybody, and they felt like it just couldn’t work.”

On why Stevens can succeed: “In such a short time, at a small school, he was able to turn them into something. He has a way about him. He carries himself like an NBA coach. He doesn’t look like an NBA coach, he looks way to young. ‘€¦ As opposed to [Rick] Pitino [11], he’s going to be humble. Pitino came in here arrogant and thought he had all the answers and thought he had figured it all out, he deserved to be the team president instead of Red Auerbach. This is going to be the opposite. This guy’s going to come in humble. He’s going to have a great working relationship with his general manager, with his owner. They’re all going to be together. If [a player] tries to go to management, management’s going to say, ‘Shut up, we’re all in this together. Go back and listen to the coach.’ He has the stuff to be able to make it work, and he has the backing of the team, because they see that stuff in him.”