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Rough waters for Rivers, Celtics

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 14, 2010 09:37 AM

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If Doc Rivers is truly considering a departure, if there is really the chance that this is his final year in Boston, there really is just one thing to say:

Can’t say I blame you, Doc. Amazing it took this long. If it were me, I would have quit months ago.

Overpaid underachievers of the highest order, the Celtics will conclude their regular season tonight with a game against the Milwaukee Bucks that, on the surface, seems meaningless. It isn’t. The Celtics are 50-31 this season and have casually settled into the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference as a result of last night’s loss at Chicago, and it remains to be seen whether the C’s will face the Bucks or Miami Heat (hosting New Jersey tonight) in the first round of the playoffs.

On paper, even after the injury to Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut, the Celtics would seem better suited to face the Heat, against whom they are 3-0. (They are 2-1 against the Bucks.) Nonetheless, both the Bucks and Heat have a say in this matter, and the latter would seem to benefit from tanking tonight’s game against the Nets to facilitate a first-round meeting with the Atlanta Hawks (against whom Miami is 3-1) instead of the Celtics.

The point? If the Celtics want the best possible first-round matchup for themselves, they may need to win tonight.

"We made our bed and now we’ve got to lay in it,’’ Kevin Garnett told reporters following last night’s defeat that cemented the Celtics in the No. 4 position. "We’ve just kind of got to make the best out of it. I think our goals were a lot higher than this, but we’ll take it.’’

Truth be told, the Celtics don’t have a choice.

And if they don’t care at this point, well, that would be entirely consistent with how they have approached the large majority of this season.

All of this brings us back to Rivers and today’s Boston Herald story, citing an anonymous source, that Rivers might quit after this season, with one year remaining on his existing contract. In the same report, Rivers addressed the speculation by saying that he goes through an evaluation process with his family every year and that he has made no formal decisions. Rivers certainly did not say that he would be leaving the Celtics, but he didn’t exactly give assurances that he would be back, either.

Given the way that this year has gone, can anyone blame him?

As always, there is the chance here that this is all posturing as part of the negotiation for a new contract extension, but that is unlikely given the strength of the relationship between Rivers and Celtics vice president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. Two years after winning their 17th championship, the Celtics this season have been well beyond disappointing. In fact, they are downright unlikable. The season began with Glenn Davis suffering a thumb injury while cold-cocking someone who was his friend, and the Celtics collectively have spent the last six months figuratively punching their fans, coach and one another in the face.

In retrospect, maybe we didn’t know the impact of the Rasheed Wallace acquisition. Maybe he was far worse than we thought. Independent of that – and independent of the injuries -- has Kevin Garnett been the same passionate and ferocious competitor, or he has been a relatively hollow facsimile?

What about Paul Pierce? At what point did the Celtics become so cocksure of themselves that they decided they have nothing left to prove, to themselves, their bosses or their paying customers?

Factoring in the luxury tax, the Celtics this season will cost ownership somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million. Entering tonight’s regular season finale, they have gone a mediocre 24-16 at home and a laughable 28-25 in their last 53 games. Barring a dramatic and unforeseen turnaround in the playoffs – acting like you care and actually caring are two different things – this particular club seems to have taken the term "Celtics Pride’’ and turned into an oxymoron.

Remember that scene in ``A Few Good Men,’’ where Colonel Nathan R. Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) lectures the court on his responsibilities and those of the Marine Corps? "We use words like honor, code, loyalty … we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline."

So it is with these Celtics.

Assuming, of course, that they can handle the truth.

Back at the trading deadline, when the Celtics acquired Nate Robinson and, later, Michael Finley, we all operated with the singular hope that these Celtics were coasting along in cruise control, waiting to turn it all on. Several weeks later, we are still wondering. Ainge opted to hold onto Ray Allen rather than trade him, at least temporarily delaying a roster remodeling or reconstruction until the summer.

Now, we continue to wonder:

Will the Celtics be looking for a coach, too?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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