PHILADELPHIA – Individual captaincy is a longstanding tradition in the NBA. It’s not, however, a tradition that Brad Stevens believes is fitting for his Boston Celtics.
The last Celtics player who served as a captain was Rajon Rondo. Judging by Stevens’ comments earlier this week, Rondo may remain the last Celtics captain for quite some time.
“I think the biggest thing is that sometimes when you name a captain or name two captains, you can disempower others as much as you empower captains,” said Stevens. “I think the most important thing is that we all embrace what we do best and add to the team, and we all have a voice in that. I want the guys who are 20 years old to have ownership, to be able to put their signature on this thing, just as much as some of the older guys.”
How do those older, experienced players feel about Stevens’ philosophy? They gave their two cents Friday morning ahead of shootaround in Philadelphia, and it appears that they are unanimously on board with their coach’s views.
“I think that that’s the way to go,” said 11-year veteran Al Horford, who is one of four returning Celtics from last season. “That’s one of the things that I’ve kind of expressed these first few weeks, that I feel like we have many leaders in this locker room, and it’s not necessarily just one guy.”
Horford added that he believes the concept of captaincy is “a little overrated.”
“I think that in order for you to be a great team, you need to have a lot of guys that feel accountable, that do the right things and that lead by example,” the Celtics big man said ahead of their preseason game with the 76ers. “The more guys you have like that, usually the better group you’ll have, at least in our sport.”
Currently in the NBA, there are at least 20 teams with one or two captains. Some of those that are without a captain may still name a designated leader in the weeks leading up to the regular season.
It may be considered a distinguished honor among most teams, but the Celtics’ players like the philosophy that their coach has on the matter.
“I think he’s right about it,” All-Star wing Gordan Hayward said about Stevens’ views. “It’s a team game and I think you’ll have leaders step up in their own way throughout the season. There are a lot of different guys that will show it in different ways. We’ll lead by committee.”
Sometimes a team that takes a lead-by-committee approach can be viewed as a one that lacks individual leaders. It’s quite the opposite with the Celtics, however; they have an abundance of players who are capable of taking on a captaincy role. In a case like theirs, it’s not necessary to empower one or two individuals when there are so many players who would be deserving candidates.
You could make a case for Horford, with his veteran status and lead-by-example approach. You could also make a case for Hayward, who is a rising star and another lead-by-example type.
You could even make a case for some of the younger guys who have already begun to show leadership qualities on and off the court.
“I’ve seen Jaylen (Brown) take a leadership role,” Horford pointed out. “Marcus (Smart) has taken a very strong leadership role. It’s really good to see.”
You could also certainly make a case for Kyrie Irving, who, at just 25 years old, already has four All-Star appearances and three consecutive trips to the finals on his resume.
Yet, Irving, like the others, believes it’s far from necessary for Boston to single out one or two players to take on a captaincy role.
“Collectively, for us to be successful, I’m with (Stevens) on that 100 percent,” said Irving. “All the team captain stuff, especially at the highest level of the game where guys put in a lot of time, and to identify one person as just that player who can have a voice… it’s a tradition that’s been going on for years, but I’m glad that I’m not part of that tradition here with the Celtics.”
The more important tradition is to play as a team, lead as a team, and honor the name on the front of the jersey. Not the name on the back.