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Rivers is first step

Seeking continuity, Celtics extend deal

Doc Rivers, who is 102-144 in three years as coach of the Celtics, got the extension he had been waiting for. (JIM DAVIS/FILE/GLOBE STAFF)

Doc Rivers signed a contract extension with the Celtics yesterday, setting the stage for the continuity that ownership, management, and players hope will produce winning results.

The deal is widely believed to add one year to the coach's current deal, keeping Rivers under contract through the 2008-09 season, though the Celtics did not disclose terms of the agreement. Rivers said he did not want to enter next season without an extension. It can be difficult for coaches and teams to perform when the head coach is in the last year of his deal. A one-year extension solves those problems.

"I am happy to be the head coach of the Boston Celtics," said Rivers, who has posted a 102-144 record in three seasons with the team. "Moving forward I am more determined to move this franchise in the right direction and I believe that I can do that."

Given the public support of executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, the move was not unexpected, though it was surprising how quickly both sides reached an agreement. There was speculation Rivers and the Celtics would wait until after the NBA draft lottery May 22 before proceeding with a contract extension. If the Celtics secure the No. 1 or No. 2 pick and select Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, the immediate future for the franchise looks much brighter. Clearly, Ainge feels optimistic about the future of the franchise with Rivers in the fold, regardless of the draft lottery.

"We started talking when the season was over," said Ainge. "We had no time frame. But the negotiations were quickly done. Their expectations were not far off from our expectations. It was a very fast negotiation.

"I think Doc is a leader and has a high basketball IQ. I feel very confident that he can get us to where we need to get. I feel that continuity is crucial right now."

After the Celtics suffered a franchise-record 18-game losing streak and finished with the second-worst record (24-58) in the league this season, it seemed uncertain if Rivers would stay with the team beyond next year, when his original deal expired. Rivers signed a four-year contract worth approximately $20 million when he joined the Celtics in April 2004.

"I would like to see Doc here for 10 years," said Ainge when asked about Rivers's status shortly before the Celtics' season finale against the Pistons April 18. "I would love to build some continuity here and let him continue to carry the torch of the team. That's what I'd really like to see. That's what I've wanted from the beginning. There's no difference now in my feeling that he's capable of doing that.

"I think Doc is an excellent basketball coach. I didn't say perfect and I didn't say I'd offer him a 10-year contract extension. I'm saying I hope I see Doc on the sidelines for 10 more years. I hope that it works out that way. I hope that he wants it. I hope that ownership wants him. I hope that means next year we go on and have the year that we're all hoping to have, that we can be injury-free and play and achieve what we think we can."

In his first season with Boston, Rivers led the team to a 45-37 record and its first Atlantic Division title since 1991-92. The season ended when the Celtics were upset at home by the Pacers in a seven-game, first-round series. The next two seasons were not nearly as successful for Rivers and did not include trips to the playoffs. Boston finished 2005-06 with a 33-49 record. There were high hopes for the 2006-07 season before injuries precipitated a downward spiral, especially once Paul Pierce missed seven weeks with a stress reaction in his left foot. With or without Oden or Durant, there are high hopes for next season, meaning the pressure will be on Rivers and the players to produce.

Ainge does not see last season as a reflection of how well Rivers can coach, faulting the players more than the coaching staff for poor performances. Ainge believes Rivers and his assistants give the players proper instruction on the most important facets of the game during practice, even though the Celtics' defensive deficiencies last season were, at times, embarrassing.

"The same people that want to say that Doc, for whatever reason, was tanking games, which he wasn't doing, also want to hold that record on him," said Ainge shortly before the season ended. "So, he's either doing what's in the best interest for the long term of the Celtics or he's not a good enough coach to win games. But it can't be both. Doc is a team player. He does what's best for the franchise. A lot of coaches don't see the big picture. I don't want Doc to see too much of the big picture, but he does understand it and it's for me to communicate with Doc."

With a contract extension signed, Rivers understands the big picture includes him more now than ever.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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