It’s amazing how much can change in a few days.
Last Friday morning, the Celtics announced a press conference featuring the team’s general manager and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and head coach Doc Rivers, theoretically to announce the coach’s return for a 10th season amid weeks of rumors to the contrary.
Tuesday afternoon, a long weekend after canceling that sit-down with the media, the meeting was back on, this time with Ainge seated beside team president Rich Gotham to detail the 2013 remake of Doc Hollywood.
The press conference was littered with questions, offered few answers, and sprinkled in uncomfortable humor as Ainge tried to engage clean-cut, warmly-dressed reporters. Who could blame him for seeking levity? The once fiery player probably wanted to punch a wall with each passing query.
Ainge went out of his way to thank Rivers for his nine years of service to the Celtics, filled with friendship, teamwork and, when armed with the proper talent, fine coaching. He said, and I agree, that the C’s don’t raise Banner 17 in 2008 without their motivational leader, and he wished his old friend well out west.
But Ainge was also quick to repeatedly note that this situation was not his idea – Rivers is off to a place he “chose to go” and “wants to be.” He claimed he expected his now former coach to be back on the Boston bench right up until the moment the deal with Los Angeles was completed. Frankly, throughout the entire session, Ainge maintained a look of disbelief that any of this was actually happening and it probably still hasn’t set in.
Likely seeing that and hoping for a juicy sound bite, one journalist inquired if Ainge felt Rivers had quit on the Celtics, given the three years and $21 million remaining on his contract.
“I would never say that he quit,” Ainge remarked, while adding that that Rivers has the pulse of the players and felt maybe a change was necessary, or that he needed a change.
Perception is everything, and based on what’s transpired since the C’s untimely ending on May 3, there is only one reality as it concerns Doc Rivers:
He absolutely, unequivocally quit on the Boston Celtics.
Let’s get this out of the way – I believe Rivers did a good job while in Boston and he should ultimately be remembered fondly for his efforts. No one would question that he gave all that he had over nearly a decade with the Green, but he didn’t need a Magic 8-Ball to know what awaited him when he inked a five-year deal in the spring of 2011 as opposed to stepping away from the game as was widely rumored. Make no mistake, a rebuild is coming and the manner in which Rivers left is worthy of the beating it will receive.
Read between the lines of this comment from Ainge:
“When we signed Doc to the highest-paid coaching contract in the NBA a couple years ago, we talked, we knew the ages of our players (Paul Pierce was 33, and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were each 35). We knew that we would be here at a phase – maybe it would have been last year, maybe this year, maybe next year – but a time to rebuild and restore. We talked about that. At that time, before it hit him, he was all on board and I felt like I did a very good sales job on Doc at that time. Maybe he did a sales job on me.”
Translation: He got me. We handed this guy seven mil a year and all his aging stars we could possibly retain or acquire to squeeze a couple more years out of what started as a three-year window, and now he’s walking away because he doesn’t feel like starting over. Does he think this is what I wanted? He probably never planned on fulfilling his deal in the first place!
I don’t blame Rivers for biting at the young Clippers talent, the same money with more power, the bright lights and warm weather, and the inevitable late-night talk show appearances that netted the Celtics a mere 2015 unprotected first-round draft pick. There’s nothing appealing about a rebuild ever, let alone when you’ve been to the top of the coaching mountain. He wants to win another championship, and that day’s not coming at the Garden any time soon, unless maybe you’re surrounding yourself with Bruins sweaters.
I do blame him for not displaying the loyalty he always preached to his players and conveyed to the fans. Ubuntu, be damned. Rivers will address the media in the City of Angels this afternoon and he’ll inevitably explain his desire for a change of scenery and how he felt it would benefit all parties involved.
Theo Epstein used a similar rationale when he weaseled out of the last year of his contract with the Red Sox for a promotion and less controlling bosses in Chicago. Sometimes, whether it’s because you’re staring at a playoff-less future, you don’t like the hard-headed point guard, you’re tired of dealing with the same co-workers day-in and day-out, the grass is greener someplace different, or whatever else, you’re ready to move on, I get that. It’s not simply because you felt like a change. Own it.
While Rivers is busy trotting out the same spin Ainge was forced to spew, he should remember what he said last August after Allen departed as a free agent to chase a title in South Beach.
“I was really disappointed, pissed, because I thought it was for all the wrong reasons. It was more about himself.”
Again, Allen was a free agent, not a guy committed for three more years.
This, Mr. Rivers (since, after all, you’re not really a doctor), is about you and your desire to abandon ship now that it’s spouted a couple leaks. You’re no Gregg Popovich, you’re no Jerry Sloan, and you’re certainly no Red Auerbach. And how do you suppose KG feels, knowing now that parameters of your agreement won’t – at least for the time being – allow him to join you? This whole scenario went from what appeared to be a package deal that could really help the Celtics to one man taking care of himself. Consider it the new era of super teams where coaches, too, can finagle their way into more desirable circumstances.
We don’t know who the next coach of the Celtics will be, other than Ainge’s proclamation that it won’t be him, a decent run back in the 1990’s with Phoenix notwithstanding. We don’t know, as decisions possibly loom quickly, what will be of Pierce’s and Garnett’s careers in Boston with another average-at-best season on the horizon. We don’t know if Josh Smith and Rajon Rondo, old prep school roommates, will finally be reunited. We certainly don’t know how many years of postseason futility, 18-game losing streaks, and evasive ping pong balls could be in store before we’re again realistically discussing Banner 18.
We do know, despite weeks of being assured otherwise by upper management, that the man who proclaimed himself a Celtic is gone. It’s not because he couldn’t do the job. He just didn't want to.
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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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