WALTHAM - Three coaches - Pat Riley, Larry Brown, and Mike Fratello - told Doc Rivers during his playing career that he would be an NBA coach one day. While Rivers wasn't as certain, he eventually lived up to his calling, and is now coaching the Celtics in his ninth season on an NBA bench.
How Riley, Brown, and Fratello talked about Rivers having the talent to be an NBA coach is the same way Rivers now talks about Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. The 10-time All-Star, however, isn't interested in walking the sideline unless he's checking into a game.
"I don't think [Garnett] will, because I think he will go home and retire," Rivers said. "But I think he absolutely could be. I kid him about that all the time and he says, 'No way.' He said, 'You guys are nuts. I want to go fishing, go golfing, and enjoy my life.'
"That may be true with him because he is so intense he's going to leave it all out on the playing floor. But he absolutely could be a coach."
Rivers has been impressed with Garnett's basketball IQ. It's not out of the ordinary to see the 2004 league MVP giving his teammates pointers before games or during timeouts. Garnett also encourages his teammates when times are tough and has a strong respect for the history of the game.
"I always thought that guys with high basketball IQs, the [coaching] interest is not in them," said Rivers. "But the interest in the game makes them a coaching candidate.
"You say [no to coaching] now because it's a grind right now and as a player you want to get away. But he loves the game too much. I can't imagine him just going away. But a lot of guys do that. I'd be surprised."
While he appreciated the compliment, Garnett has no interest in coaching.
"I don't have the patience, man," Garnett said. "Doc has great patience. He's very motivating every game. It's not the same, 'Oh, let's go out here and win one for the Gipper.' He's very inspiring. I think he understands players. There are so many dynamics that go into coaching. Strategy. Personnel. I love teaching. Motivating and will to be the best. I can't take the ego and everything else that comes with some players. I just don't have the patience.
"Who knows? I know I play to win. I play hard. As a coach, you expect that. You really do expect that from your players."
Magic Johnson is widely considered one of the top five players in NBA history. But when it came to coaching, the three-time MVP lasted only 16 games (five wins).
"Kevin Garnett would have a migraine," Johnson said. "He knows what a guy is supposed to be doing, but they won't be doing it. I'll give you an example just to bring it home for Kevin. I'm on the bench and I got Michael Cooper, my guy, as an assistant. Our point guard, Nick Van Exel, he's on the break and I'm like, 'Pass it, pass it to him! He's open!' I'm screaming.
"So I hit Coop and say, 'Why didn't he pass it to him?' He said, 'Earvin, he can't see that. Only you can see that. You saw it before the play broke open.' 'Well, why can't he see it?' 'He's not you.' "
Garnett said he talks to Sam Mitchell, a former teammate with the Timberwolves who is now coach of the Raptors, about coaching "all the time." The Celtics host the Raptors tonight at TD Banknorth Garden.
"I would never say he can't do it," said Mitchell, last season's NBA Coach of the Year. "I would just say I would love to see him give it a run. I would love to coach against him after a loss or if he's coming in after a loss or two, I would just be laughing. I would love to see it, especially if they lost three or four in a row. I would love to be at that practice."
So, if Garnett isn't interested in coaching after he retires, what will he do?
"When I'm done, ya'll probably won't hear from me again," said Garnett, who lives in Malibu, Calif., in the offseason. "You might see me at some games. I definitely want to enjoy seeing the game from a fan's perspective.
"When I'm done, I [told Celtics officials] this, ya'll will probably read a little insert in USA Today about Kevin Garnett in some Thousand Oaks [Calif.] YMCA busting up old guys. I'm sticking to my guns. I got the YMCA picked out. I know where I'm going. I'm checking out the [competition]."
Forward Brian Scalabrine stayed long after practice yesterday to work on his jump shot. He has played sparingly of late, including 1 minute 51 seconds in Wednesday's 113-103 win over the 76ers. "I'll never put myself in front of our team's success," Scalabrine said. "Also, I don't want to accept being that guy on the bench. I want to come out and work hard and try to take those minutes." Rivers said he plans to start using his bench more. The Celtics' reserves scored 46 points against Philadelphia.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org