MIAMI – A smile beamed across Brad Stevens’ face Saturday morning after he was told that former Celtic Kelly Olynyk called him “one of the greatest human beings” Olynyk has ever met.
“He’s good with the media,” Stevens said with a chuckle.
True, but at the base of the joke was a four-year relationship that took a drastic turn this past summer.
Stevens and Olynyk began their NBA careers together, four years ago during the summer of 2013. Stevens signed on to become Boston’s head coach on July 4, 2013, just one week after the Celtics traded up to draft Olynyk with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The duo grew together throughout the following four years, culminating with an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
During the summer, however, Boston was forced to part ways with Olynyk to make room to sign free agent Gordon Hayward. Olynyk quickly signed a lucrative contract with the Miami Heat, whom the Celtics will take on tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Stevens admitted it will be “weird” to see Olynyk in an opposing uniform tonight, and the coach was not shy about stating his feelings of happiness for Olynyk’s success and situation here in Miami.
“You want the guys to have a great experience with you, and you hope to continue that, but if not, it needs to be because they got an unbelievable opportunity, and Kelly got that here with the Heat,” said Stevens. “He’s in a great organization, (with) great coaching. He continues to be a very unique player that can impact the game in different ways.
“He was a blast to coach, and certainly we miss him, but (I’m) happy for his success.”
Stevens and the Celtics just hope that success doesn’t filter into tonight’s game.
Boston is searching for its fourth consecutive victory, while Olynyk and the Heat are looking to bounce back from a drubbing Wednesday night at the hands of the Spurs.
Olynyk enters tonight’s game averaging 9.5 points 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Heat. Those numbers closely resemble those which he put up during his four years with the Celtics, and that comes as no surprise when considering how the Heat are using the 7-footer in their offensive system.
“I think that they even incorporated some of the things that we did for Kelly,” commented Al Horford, who played alongside Olynyk in Boston’s frontcourt last season. “He’s picking and popping a lot. Playing a lot at the elbows. Still looking to take the ball off the dribble. Just a lot of the same concepts that he had when he was here.”
Stevens commented that the Heat are using Olynyk quite a bit at the center position, which oftentimes puts opposing big men in a bind, as they are not accustomed to defending a player with Olynyk’s shooting and dribbling abilities. Fortunately for the C’s, Horford is well-versed in defending Olynyk’s skill set, as he did so throughout all of last season’s practices.
“You just know the person and what they want to do on the court and some of the things that they can do,” Horford said of playing against a former teammate like Olynyk.
Still, the task certainly won’t be easy to overcome.
Olynyk is playing great basketball for the Heat and is hitting 54.5 percent of his 3-point attempts thus far in the season. He is a threat to shoot the ball or take the ball off the dribble every time he touches it, just as he was during his four seasons with the Celtics.
No one knows that better than Stevens, who helped to evolve Olynyk’s game all while he evolved as a coach.
The duo came into the league together in 2013, and they grew together for four years. The mere thought of their relationship puts a smile on Stevens’ face.
Stevens and Olynyk will surely share a smile and an embrace ahead of tip-off tonight, but after they do, they become opponents for the very first time. Stevens hopes to be beaming with a smile at the end of the night as well, after dealing his former player a loss during their first matchup against each other.