After weeks of speculation that a coaching change could be on the horizon for the Boston Celtics, a meeting between Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge on Wednesday evening confirmed that the former is headed for the West Coast.
Ainge met with Rivers in Boston to discuss the negotiations between the Celtics and Clippers just a day after talks were “called off.” After a morning full of optimism that Rivers might actually remain with the organization he helped guide to a championship in 2008, it’s painfully clear that he’s done.
A veteran of nine seasons in the Hub, Rivers reportedly wasn’t thrilled by the idea of a rebuilding progress. That’s why he did nothing to squash rumors of a swap between the Celtics and the Clippers that would involve his coaching rights.
Rivers wants another shot to coach an NBA champion and there is significant work to be done in order for the Celtics to get back to that level. The Clippers are no guarantee, but they have a better shot -- at least over the short term. Rivers has been loyal to the Celtics during his tenure, supplying the perfect style and personality to deal with more than one huge personality, but he’s also been paid handsomely to coach several future Hall of Famers.
He is one of the best coaches in the game and only 51, but Rivers averaged 34 wins in the three years prior to the arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Since then, the Celtics have averaged 53 wins and won 61 playoff games.
That’s why the Clippers want Rivers -- he deals well with stars. He doesn’t have the gravitas of Phil Jackson or the work ethic of Erik Spoelstra, but you can’t deny he’s a near-perfect fit for a budding, star-laden contender.
It’s clear the Clippers are using Rivers as a way to ease the process of re-signing Chris Paul -- or he’s made up his mind to stay and is pulling the strings. If they can get the Celtics to waive the coach’s non-compete and get him aboard, Paul will fall in line. If Los Angeles hires Rivers and then Paul signs elsewhere it would be Baron Davis-Elton Brand in 2008 all over again -- only much worse.
This is a dangerous game for the Clippers, with all the leverage in Ainge’s hands. He knows the Clippers need to make this deal happen, so he can demand as much as he wants. The offer will have to be more than simply DeAndre Jordan and a first-round pick for Garnett and Rivers. Perhaps another pick. Maybe Eric Bledsoe. Possibly both.
The reality is that this courtship of Doc Rivers is the best thing to happen to the Celtics since Kevin McHale sent Garnett to Ainge six years ago.
A page needs to be turned and the Clippers are doing Ainge a favor by making it impossible not to flip it and jumpstart the rebuilding process. There was a nice spin, but the Celtics weren’t contenders entering this season. Jason Terry was never a perfect replacement for Ray Allen. Jared Sullinger was red-flagged by half the league because of back problems and the trio of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Garnett were no longer an interlocking piece.
Then Rondo got hurt and there was a jolt of energy before a first-round elimination. The previous season, the Celtics clicked late and somehow got within a win of the NBA Finals. The status quo wasn’t going to work again.
Looking into Garnett’s eyes after the Celtics were eliminated by the Knicks on May 3, it seemed as though retirement was probable. Pierce admitted that playing for another franchise after 15 seasons was a possibility. Rivers looked more devastated than a coach that cobbled together a playoff run without his superstar point guard should.
The writing was on the wall.
This ending isn’t as sentimental as what seemed like the more likely possibility last month -- Garnett retiring, Rivers calling it quits to spend more time with his family in Florida before resurfacing in a season or two -- but it takes all the blood off of Ainge’s hands. He has been loyal to this core, but doesn’t suffer from nostalgia.
Completing a deal with the Clippers not only takes care of Garnett and Rivers, but also provides him the tools with which to speed up the rebuilding process. Jordan isn’t anywhere near the level of Garnett, but he’s young and serviceable. Adding Bledsoe would take some heat off Rondo and open up the chance for an electric two-point guard lineup and gives the Celtics another asset.
Then there is the pick, or maybe even picks, and Pierce.
Waiving Pierce seems like the next act in the play, removing a portion ($10 million is the figure CelticsHub is using) of his $15.3 million salary from the books for the 2013-14 season. That wouldn’t get Boston under the salary cap, but it’s assumed that Pierce would prefer the ability to sign with a contender than endure what will be a rebuilding season with Boston.
Whatever happens with Pierce, Rivers and Garnett are on the verge of becoming the next two dominos in fall of the Big Three Era. Allen left for Miami a year ago, officially elevating Rondo to monument status. This summer, the likenesses of Rivers, Garnett and Pierce will tumble. Rondo will stand alone on the mountain that Ainge guards.