Doc Rivers had sweet success
Sour finish shouldn't obscure his remarkable run as Celtics coach
BOSTON -- There are those who will be left slightly bitter by the way Doc Rivers' tenure as coach of the Boston Celtics is coming to a close, the team finally reaching a deal Sunday with the Los Angeles Clippers that will see Boston release Rivers from the final three years of his contract in exchange for a future first-round draft pick.
By maintaining a public silence during these on-again/off-again, zombie-like negotiations, Rivers opened himself up to some criticism, from which he certainly is not immune. But those left disenchanted, believing that Rivers is grabbing a Hollywood life vest and jumping from this sinking Ubuntu ship, shouldn't let a messy eight-day finish take away from what Rivers accomplished here over the previous nine years.
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Rivers, who departs as the third winningest coach in Celtics history (sitting behind only Tommy Heinsohn and Red Auerbach), resuscitated a glory-covered franchise and delivered its first NBA title in 22 seasons. Rivers helmed five ultra-successful campaigns with a Big Three core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and likely his only lament is not delivering another title during that run. He still leaves an indelible footprint on a storied franchise.
Rivers' departure, which comes one season after Allen's exit began the erosion of the Big Three, almost certainly spells the end of an era in Celtics history as the team must now examine whether Pierce and Garnett also can be moved for future assets as part of the looming rebuilding process.
Allen was vilified on his way out of town, nicknamed Judas Shuttlesworth, and scorned for taking less money to chase a title (which he ultimately captured) with the rival Miami Heat. Considering this messy start to Boston's offseason, it's safe to say Allen made the right choice. Is Rivers too?
Rivers won't face the same rage that Allen did, but there is a segment of the Celtics' fan base that has been left with a sour taste given the fact that the 51-year-old coach is bolting after just two years of a five-year pact, leaving Boston to rebuild without his services. Rivers didn't help his cause by pledging to aid a rebuilding process while stressing how he desired to return the organization's loyalty when he signed that deal two summers ago.
Rivers finally will get a chance to explain his (in)decision on Monday when he and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge are expected to meet the media at the team's training facility in Waltham. For the first time in 52 days -- since Boston's not-so-memorable first-round playoff exit at the hands of the New York Knicks -- Rivers will be able to offer some insight into a process that at times has often left him as frustrated as Boston fans.
But save your anger. Garnett might have changed the culture of the Celtics, but Rivers changed the climate. After enduring those lean early years when fans chanted, "Fire Doc," Rivers -- with help of the talent management put around him and aided by his personality -- morphed into one of the game's elite coaches. His game management has its faults, but Rivers became a master recruiter for Boston, a rare instance when the coach was a team's top selling point (it certainly wasn't the weather).[+] EnlargeJim Rogash/Getty ImagesDoc Rivers brought enough smiles to Celtics fans to become third on the franchise's all-time win list.
Years from now, when we reflect on Rivers' tenure, we are unlikely to reflect on the details of this unseemly end. We'll remember the orange Gatorade shower at the end of Game 6 as the Celtics dispatched the rival Lakers to capture Banner 17 in 2008. Or any other of the vivid playoff wins from the successful Big Three era.
We'll also remember the way Rivers invested himself so deeply in the Celtics, not the annual offseason detox while he decided his future. For eight years, he immersed himself and kept coming back. The Celtics certainly wouldn't have minded if he returned to helm the rebuilding process next season.
But if there was a time to go, this wasn't the worst moment.
The Celtics were heading toward the rebuilding phase sooner than later -- heck, it's overdue already -- and it didn't make much sense to pay a coach a league-high $7 million in hopes of landing a lottery pick. Instead, the Celtics parlayed Rivers into a future first-round pick from a team that has a history of bungling most everything it touches.
Tough as it may seem for some at the moment, many will adopt the Clippers as their Western Conference team and hope that Rivers can deliver them the same title he helped bring to Boston. After all, that likely would mean bumping off the rival Lakers and Heat along the way.
So wish Rivers luck next season. Just not the year after, so that the Celtics can take full advantage of that 2015 draft pick from the Clippers. A lottery pick would make those memories of Rivers even fonder.
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