First Tom Thibodeau, then Lawrence Frank. For the past four seasons, the Celtics defense has been under the control of pedigreed, respected basketball minds. But with both Thibs and Frank accepting head coaching positions elsewhere, the Celtics defense will turn to a more unknown commodity next season. At a charity golf tournament this morning, Doc Rivers admitted that Mike Longabardi will become the team’s de facto defensive coordinator.
Longabardi has worked on Rivers’s coaching staff for the past three seasons, but a promotion this summer means he will become an NBA bench coach next season for the first time ever. The promoted coach previously worked behind the scenes in Boston and, for four years before that, in Houston. But now he will take the reins of one of the NBA’s top units, a defensive crew that carried an average Celtics offense last season.
Longabardi will need to fill big shoes, and he will need to do so despite the expected, continued decline (however slight or sudden) of Boston’s Big Three. Especially if Kevin Garnett slows down another step or two, Longabardi’s job will become significantly more difficult. After learning underneath Thibodeau and Frank, Longabardi should be well-schooled in defensive technique and well-prepared to run the defense himself. But taking orders from two of the NBA’s finest defensive minds is one thing. Giving the orders yourself is quite another.
There was some discussion that Boston’s defensive would be led by a “defensive coordinator-by-committee” next season, but Rivers instead decided to appoint Longabardi in charge. Just a few years ago, Longabardi was a video coordinator in Houston. Now, he will be barking orders at Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. If he’s anything like Thibodeau and Frank, Longabardi will have plenty of voice-less nights following close games.
Remember, Larry Brown was reportedly interested in an assistant coaching position with Boston. By promoting Longabardi rather than pursuing Brown, the Celtics offered a vote of confidence to the Frostburg State University graduate. And no, I didn’t know that school existed either. In case you were wondering, other notable alumni include a bunch of people I’ve never heard of, and Jim Riggleman, the Washington Nationals manager who resigned after winning 11 of 12 games because the team refused to discuss a contract extension.
The Celtics have heaped a lot of responsibility on Longabardi, a young assistant whose resume pales in comparison to Thibodeau’s or Frank’s. I admittedly know nothing about Longabardi’s coaching habits or skills, but I hope he’s ready for the big time.