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Without Doc, major operation awaits Celtics

Posted by Adam Kaufman  June 24, 2013 01:12 AM

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Doc Rivers celtics.jpg


Thanks largely to Chris Paul and pending the approval of NBA commissioner David Stern, the seemingly never-ending – What? You really thought it was dead?! – drama we called the Celtics-Clippers trade talks have a resolution:

After nine seasons of blood, sweat, tears, the lowest of lows, the highest of highs, and just about everything in between, Celtics coach Doc Rivers is jumping ship for Hollywood in exchange for an unprotected 2015 first-round draft pick. The man who helped guide the Celts to Banner 17 will reportedly receive a three-year deal worth $21 million or, if you’re scoring at home, the same specifics that remained on his term in the Hub.

For all of us spectators, the far-too-public negotiations went from fascinating to excruciatingly annoying. “Wake me when it’s over,” became a common sentiment.

Admittedly, the plots were compelling. We heard things like, “Doc doesn’t know if he wants to coach next year,” “Doc doesn’t actually want a sabbatical; he just doesn’t want to rebuild in Boston,” there's a problem in the front office,” “Doc never asked out; it wasn't even his idea,” “Doc’s no longer interested in going to LA and he plans to return to Celts,” and, my favorite, “Doc and Rajon Rondo almost came to blows last season.” After a while, though, enough was enough. Rivers’ old talks of loyalty went from inspiring to hypocritical, and condemning Ray Allen for leaving as a free agent – proven days ago to be the right call, by the way – just looks idiotic.

Thankfully, we’re on the cusp of finality, and we can begin the process of evaluating the trade. Is it good or bad? Well, the answer is both.

On the surface, you could argue that the Celtics got hosed. Consider that they originally wanted two first-round selections in upcoming drafts for their highly-coveted, if overrated, coach and instead settled for one in a draft that’s widely considered far weaker than what awaits in 2014.

Of course, we won’t really know what value the pick has until we see what the C’s do with it. Will they trade it as part of a package for another asset down the road? Will they hold onto it in hopes the Clips continue their run of failure and dysfunction and that it somehow, two years from now, results in a better position than their talent would lead you to expect? Time will tell.

You could also argue that it’s better to get something than nothing for a coach who for one reason or another had one foot out the door for months. No team in any sport should employ a coach or manager who isn’t fully committed to the job, especially when that somebody is the highest-paid coach in his game. The Celtics are ridding themselves of a once-influential and now-disinterested leader, and simultaneously saving a good chunk of change. Tough not to put the edge here.

Rivers should be missed for what he did while in Boston, but his departure undoubtedly leaves a stain on his legacy.

So, what happens now?

That’s the multi-million dollar question, and one that Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge will be asked about 732 different ways this afternoon, provided this press conference sticks. It’ll be very interesting, too, to see if Rivers elects to attend and finally deliver his side of the controversial story.

First and foremost, the Celtics need to decide which direction they’re headed. The NBA Draft is Thursday and the C’s have just one free agent (Chris Wilcox), $76 million committed to the cap, and no coach, which probably means a couple of frustrated veterans.

kevin garnett celtics.jpg

The league seemingly won’t allow for a subsequent trade between the Celtics and Clippers for Kevin Garnett to occur, at least in the immediate aftermath of these negotiations, and Stern will probably remind the masses of this shortly because the outgoing commish loves the spotlight. If the trade does happen, it may require additional parts. If it doesn’t, the wonder there is whether KG would waive his no-trade clause to play for a different contender, retire (walking away from $24.4 million over the next two seasons), or return to Boston without the coach he loves. He’s always said he “bleeds Green.” Of course, Rivers stated proudly, “I am a Celtic” and we see how far that went.

paul pierce celtics.jpg

Add to that, a decision must be made within a week on aging captain and future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, who will be traded or bought out for $5 million unless the team sees fit to pay him the $15.3 million he’s owned in his final year on the books. Interestingly, of the three, he’s probably the only one who would really wish to play on the parquet in 2013-14. He’s always spoken about his desire to spend his entire career with one team which, even if he does leave, will eventually land the number 34 in the rafters.

If the team brings everyone back, they’re likely in for another title-less but playoff-bound season under a new coach. If they start the inevitable yard sale, we might see a speedy return to the M.L. Carr days of tanking for top talent.

To that point, how will the Celtics – a proud and historic franchise, with equally prideful owners – fill the void left by Rivers?

Will they hire someone like former Clippers coach and Springfield, Mass. native Vinny Del Negro, who many feel would usher the Celts right into the lottery? Will they chase an established and desirable candidate like George Karl, Jeff or Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan, Lionel Hollins, Nate McMillan, or Clips patsy Byron Scott? Or, will they choose a motivated head-coach-in-waiting like brief Celtic Brian Shaw, an assistant for nearly a decade?

No matter, sooner or later this roster’s going to experience significant turnover – the kind that only Rick Pitino could appreciate. Barring some luck, the team may be stuck with the bad contracts of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass and, forgive me but I’m not sold on him, Jeff Green.

The Celts also have a point guard in Rondo whom, if you believe all the rumors, is a chief reason why Allen and now Rivers no longer call Boston home. It’s believable, given how often he’s been on the trade block in recent years. Despite his top-level talent and a cap-friendly deal (almost $25 million over the next two seasons), he’s mentally fragile and may need to go if, given his ACL injury, Ainge can get significant value in return.

And, of course, if you’re ownership, you have to ask yourselves if the ship has sailed on the Danny Ainge era. He’s done well – far better in trades and the draft than in free agency – but the Celtics are in for a long-term climb to grace and will need someone who remains poised to do the job. The miraculous turnaround of 2007 won’t be duplicated any time soon. Those desirable parts take time to acquire.

Numerous personnel questions wait as the draft and free agency rapidly approach. The only thing that will happen faster is Doc Rivers’ flight outta town.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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