Basketball Notes

Father was told what’s best

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / July 4, 2010

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Doc Rivers spent the days following Game 7 of the NBA Finals pondering his future, deflated from the Celtics’ fourth-quarter collapse, exhausted following a grueling season, and prepared to hear the pleas of his family to step down as coach and live full-time in Orlando, Fla.

He was ready for the guilt trips. He was ready for his youngest son, Spencer, to practically grab him by the lower leg to keep him from leaving home. He expected that he wouldn’t be able to survive the onslaught without a promise to leave the Celtics.

Rivers soon found out that his family was better adjusted than he expected. His four kids like the idea of having a father who coaches in the NBA. Spencer loves shooting baskets at TD Garden before games. Austin Rivers is accustomed to seeing his father at a lot of his Winter Park High School games and fully understood that he had other responsibilities. Jeremiah Rivers will be a redshirt senior guard at Indiana.

The Rivers family nudged Dad back into coaching, reassuring him they were fine with the patriarch taking care of business 1,300 miles north, especially if the quest was another NBA title. So he will give it at least one more year. He would promise no more — yet.

Danny Ainge and Wyc Grousbeck offered me more years and I just think year-to-year is a good way of doing it for me,’’ Rivers said. “It’s really what I have done anyway and the difference was no one knew about it. And once that got out and it became a story, it was embarrassing to me in some ways because I didn’t really need that attention. The way it was done was smart for all of us to do.’’

Rivers wanted to be home, but the ending to his sixth season in Boston left him so embittered that he couldn’t help but imagine the Celtics playing the 2010-11 season with a fraction of the drama and injuries of the previous year.

So the inspiration to return was ever-present; all he required was the approval of the family that had coped with Rivers being a long-distance father for six years. They sensed his reluctance to step down and countered with reassurance that they were content with his support.

“All of them were like, ‘Dad, you got a special group and you worked your whole career to have a group like this and you can’t walk away from them. We’re all right. We’re doing great,’ ’’ Rivers said last week.

Callie Rivers, a volleyball player at the University of Florida, is dating Patriots rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes, and she will spend even more time in Boston as the Patriots’ season progresses. She may be the most adjusted of all, enjoying her seats behind the Celtics’ bench during the playoffs.

Also, the Gators will be 10 games into their volleyball season before Celtics training camp begins, giving Rivers plenty of opportunities to watch Callie in action.

“My daughter was great, she said you come to more games than most of the parents on my team,’’ he said. “So you do all the things that a dad should do and you still can coach.

“Austin said I don’t know how you can walk away from that group of guys that you have. You should see it through. We’re going to be here. It’s not like you are not part of our life. You call every day. We talk every day. We see you a ton and you made 13 of my games last year and that’s more than half the parents on that team.’’

Not only was Austin named to the US Under-18 team, he dominated in the recent FIBA Americas U18 Championship in San Antonio, leading the Americans to the gold medal. Rivers is ranked No. 2 by ESPNU for the Class of 2011.

His numbers in San Antonio were eye-popping, with a team-leading 20.2 points per game and 58.3 percent shooting, including 21 for 35 from the 3-point line.

“I don’t know where he got that from,’’ Doc Rivers quipped. “I didn’t make that many [3-pointers] in my career.’’

Rivers belabored over the possibility of being away from Austin while he was deciding on a college. He verbally committed to Florida and then reopened his consideration a few months ago. So he will spend this summer narrowing his choices and Doc will participate in the process.

Spencer is expected to make the junior varsity team at Winter Park, allowing Rivers to attend Spencer’s and Austin’s games at the same place on the same night.

Austin offered his dad some astute advice on whether to keep coaching.

“He told me, ‘If it were a different group [of players in Boston], I’d tell you to come home. But with this group I think you should stay and play it out and see what happens and don’t put a time clock on it,’ ’’ Doc recalled. “That was basically our conversations. It’s amazing how much thought they had put into it compared to me. I was just kind of waiting, trying to get a gut [feeling]. You could tell they had a lot of talks about it as a group, which was great for me. It was good input, I needed it.’’

So perhaps the Celtics faithful can thank the Rivers children for bringing their coach back. The tumultuous season took its toll and Rivers said he could have gone either way until he returned home and received such positive feedback.

While he appeared upbeat at the Celtics’ draft party, he was reflective about his time in Boston.

The final verdict was that he still possessed the enthusiasm to coach this team, and his team at home was comfortable with that decision.

“I really withdrew and did what I needed to do,’’ he said. “I may even take some more time. Coaches put their life into it and you need a break. I turned my cell off and literally withdrew from everybody except my family. It was good and I needed a break. I’m looking forward to this year. The way we went out, you just have to see if you can get back there and give it another crack, another shot with that same team. That would be perfect as far as I’m concerned.’’


Nelson must build a bridge

Golden State general manager Larry Riley has remained under the radar, but he is slowly trying to remake the Warriors with a bevy of young players and an actual defensive philosophy.

Coach Don Nelson is in the final year of his contract and with the team for sale, it’s highly unlikely the club is going to make a move and pay Nelson $6 million, so the final season of the Nelson era is about improvement and progress, according to Riley.

The Warriors introduced a new logo, will sport new uniforms, and drafted defensive-minded center Ekpe Udoh from Baylor. Riley also dumped high-priced ballhog Corey Maggette for Charlie Bell and the bloated contract of Dan Gadzuric, which expires after next season.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the team itself,’’ Riley said. “And we’d like to explore every opportunity we can to add a piece to our team. [Nelson’s situation] does not play into anything we’re doing. The decisions we’re making are long-term decisions and whoever the coach is, well, that’s who it is, but right now it’s Don Nelson and that’s the way it stays.’’

Golden State has been overshadowed in the Western Conference because of years of losing compounded by a rash of injuries. The Warriors were relegated to reaching into the NBADL several times last season because of injuries to Andris Biedrins, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Kelenna Azubuike, and Vladimir Radmanovic.

Riley is banking that the Warriors, with the rapid development of second-year guard Stephen Curry and a healthy Monta Ellis, will follow the blueprint of Oklahoma City and improve through the draft instead of high-priced free agents.

“I think those two guys together create a real problem for who’s going to match up in terms of who’s playing the Golden State Warriors,’’ Riley said. “We had so many guys that missed games, I mean large numbers of games, it’s going to be an adjustment for us. I’ve never seen anything like [the injuries] anywhere. It just seemed like you’d get one guy healthy and another would go down. We only won 26 games, and we’ll win more games because we’re healthy and I think we’ll have that kind of depth we like going into the season.’’

With a new ownership group potentially coming this summer and a host of young players, there is optimism in Golden State. The question is whether Nelson is the coach to lead them and whether a major free agent will entertain the Warriors when they will be more than $20 million under the salary cap.

“We have a great fan base and this is a great place to play,’’ Riley said. “We have a lot of pluses. I think all it takes is showing improvement and you can go out and get somebody. I think a lot of people will see if we’re close enough they are willing to look at us and say, ‘OK, I’m a free agent and it might be the right spot for me. I may just get there right at the right time.’ ’’


Seattle still feeling void

Two years ago this weekend, Seattle officially lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City after then-mayor Greg Nickels settled with owner Clay Bennett on a potential $75 million package that would allow the city to regain an NBA team.

That’s not how things worked out.

While the Thunder are coming off a wildly successful season, becoming a Western Conference power and negotiating on a long-term extension with Kevin Durant, Seattle has made no progress in acquiring another team.

In the settlement, the city needed to secure a plan to refurbish Key Arena by the conclusion of 2009 to have Bennett add $30 million to the $45 million he paid the city in 2008. Yet, the state legislature never received a proposal for a stadium plan and Bennett got to keep his $30 million, which is roughly one-third of what Durant will make on a five-year extension.

It’s a painful result for a city that deserves a team but has done little to prove that over the last five years. Nickels was voted out of office last year, replaced by Mike McGinn, who declined an interview request from the Globe to discuss the city’s NBA intentions.

Commissioner David Stern said the league has no plans to expand, meaning Seattle would have to acquire a current team but that hardly seems likely.

Former Sonic Brent Barry attempted to arrange a summer charity game at Key Arena that would have featured several Seattle-bred players as well as former Sonics such as Ray Allen.

But the game was unable to get NBA sanction, and the idea, like basketball in Seattle, faded.


Owners are in deep already

Players Association president Billy Hunter is carefully observing these early spending sprees by owners who claim they are $400 million in the red. That’s the number they gave Hunter during an exchange of ideas at the All-Star break, and the PA is expected to submit its proposal this month.

The early free agent deals don’t exactly reflect poverty. Drew Gooden agreed to a five-year, $32 million contract with the Bucks. Gooden is a classic journeyman who appeared to be on the downside of his career. Milwaukee general manager John Hammonds rewarded him with the full mid-level exception. Gooden, who averaged 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds last season for the Clippers and Mavericks, will be nearly 34 at the end of the contract.

Meanwhile, the Raptors, looking to replace Chris Bosh, re-signed Amir Johnson to a five-year, $34 million contract — more than a 100 percent raise for his two double-doubles last season. Johnson is an emerging player who drew the interest of several teams, but at nearly $7 million per season? Absolutely not.

Stern is going to have a hard time explaining the declining earnings of owners with the amount of money being invested in lower-tier or role players. With no major superstar having committed to a new contract, the first week of free agency has been clouded by the foolish spending of owners, who will demand a new collective bargaining agreement and more of the league’s revenue. We have a battle on our hands and Hunter will point to these contracts as evidence.

The Lakers’ signing of Steve Blake likely signaled the end of the Jordan Farmar era in Los Angeles. Word around the league is the Lakers were less than pleased with Farmar’s attitude and arrogance, which may damage his free agent stock. The Lakers would rather have an aging Derek Fisher back at a reduced price than a younger Farmar, and that’s an indication of what they think of Farmar . . . Some interesting names among teams’ summer league rosters: Ex-Celtics Gerald Green (Lakers), Marcus Landry (Pacers), Gabe Pruitt (Nets), and J.R. Giddens (Mavericks); former BC stars Tyrese Rice (Jazz) and Sean Williams (Bucks); former Harvard standout Jeremy Lin (Mavericks); former UConn players Jeff Adrien (Magic) and Jerome Dyson (Cavaliers); Bennet Davis of Northeastern (NBADL Select Team); and Will Blalock (Warriors), who played at Notre Dame Prep . . . Phil Jackson’s return for one more season means former Celtic Brian Shaw could be in line to become Lakers coach in 2011-12. Shaw told reporters following his interview with the Cavaliers that the Cleveland brass had no plans for a potential LeBron James departure.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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