Commentary

What really happened at Rivers' end?

Doc, Danny offer slightly different versions of how the coach left Boston for L.A.

Updated: June 27, 2013, 1:13 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Are you Team Danny or Team Doc?

In the aftermath of the deal between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers that sent Doc Rivers westward, both Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Rivers have offered their take on the cloudy close to the coach's nine-year tenure in Boston.

Told 3,000 miles apart, the tales spun by Ainge on Tuesday in Waltham, Mass., and Rivers on Wednesday in Playa Vista, Calif., align closely. Alas, there's enough gray area that a Boston fan base left bitter by the departure of a beloved championship-delivering coach is left searching for truths while trying to fairly assign blame.

"Everybody has to make their own decision, and read through the lines," Ainge said on Tuesday before light-heartedly adding, "The whole story probably won't expose itself until I write my book 20 years from now."

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsDoc Rivers was introduced as Clippers coach Wednesday, but said he had recommitted to the Celtics on Sunday.

So what really happened to end Rivers' time in Boston? Here's a recap based on what both sides revealed the past two days:

* Rivers, who ponders his future after every season, entered this offseason even more on the fence than usual after Boston endured a .500 season and first-round playoff exit. Uncertain if he could immerse himself 100 percent into a potential rebuilding process and worried he was losing his voice in the Celtics' locker room, Rivers found himself pondering if he should take some time off, potentially by working as a television analyst and traveling the country to watch other coaches at work while hoping to rekindle his coaching flame at age 51.

* Five days after Boston's playoff exit, with other teams (Nets and Clippers, and later the Nuggets) beginning to express interest in Rivers' services if he wasn't returning to Boston, Ainge had a conversation with Rivers about his future. The Celtics subsequently sent Rivers a letter on May 9. Rivers said he has not opened it but believes it was a formality in the process of denying other teams permission to chat with him as well as an affirmation of the team's desire to have him uphold his own contract. Rivers remained undecided on his future at this point.

* During the annual pre-draft camp in Chicago in mid-May, Ainge strongly suggested to reporters that Rivers would indeed be back for next season. The news irritated Rivers and he committed to remaining publicly silent on his future from that point on -- which he did, going 54 days before breaking his offseason silence to ESPN Boston Tuesday after his deal with the Clippers was finalized. While Rivers stressed that Ainge never pushed him for a firm answer, around this time the coach believes Ainge became irritated by Rivers' uncertainty and the awkward position it left the Celtics in.

* At some point in late May or early June, Rivers and Ainge sat down again, and this is where things get murky. Rivers admitted he remained indecisive, but asked Ainge what he could do to help the Celtics. "That's what started everything," said Rivers. "[Ainge said,] 'You can make a decision or there are other teams that we can make a deal with and get something for you. Just leaving doesn't help us. And that's how this thing came about. We agreed upon it together. This is not me walking into a room and saying, 'I want to go to the Clippers.'"

* Ainge seemingly ruled out the idea of allowing Rivers to go to an in-division rival like Brooklyn, but Los Angeles "piqued" Rivers' interest, particularly amid his concerns about whether his time in Boston had run its course. Said Ainge: "We had a conversation, him and I, as friends and partners over the last nine years, and a guy that I really trust, we had a conversation that we discussed the possibility of him trying to get the Clippers job. There were other teams that were interested in hiring Doc, [but] we didn't allow any of them to talk to Doc that had inquired. But the Clippers were one that intrigued him a little bit."

* By mid-June reports began to surface that there was "strong mutual interest" between Rivers and the Clippers. Soon after, Boston and Los Angeles began what became very public negotiations. An initial iteration of the Rivers deal would have seen Kevin Garnett join him in Los Angeles in exchange for DeAndre Jordan and a combination of draft picks. That package intrigued Boston, but the league, wary of the teams' potential to attempt to circumvent the collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits deals that are contingent upon another, said it wouldn't approve the swaps, forcing the teams back to the bargaining table.

* While Rivers tired of the posture-heavy negotiations that came back from being declared "dead" no less than four times in an eight-day span, it sure seemed like his heart might have already wandered out west. There was a general sense that he might have been past the point of no return in Boston, even if talks were to collapse. By this point, Rivers knew he couldn't simply take a year off and leave Boston with no compensation, so he essentially decided he would either coach the Celtics or Clippers next season.

* Last Friday, with the Clippers balking at Boston's compensation demands, a circus-like atmosphere enveloped talks as the Celtics called, then canceled a news conference that morning in the defining moment of absurdity. Rivers told Ainge to pull the plug on negotiations. Rivers suggested he was taking the weekend to ponder his future, flying home to watch his son, Spencer, play in an AAU tournament. By this point, not only was Rivers likely frustrated that he couldn't get himself to L.A., but the Celtics had probably started to wonder if moving on could have its benefits, not only in bringing back compensation, but not having to pay a coach $7 million per season to endure a rebuild.

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* Rivers called Ainge on Sunday morning from his son's AAU tournament and said he was officially coming back to Boston and was ready for whatever the future held. Shortly after, the Clippers called Ainge and agreed to meet his asking price of a first-round pick. While Rivers admitted it was a roller coaster of emotions when his agent called to inform him of a potential deal, he OK'd the swap.

* After hammering out the details of his own contract with the Clippers -- signing for the three years and $21 million that had been remaining on his Boston deal -- Rivers reached an agreement with the Clippers on Monday night and the league approved the swap Tuesday to make it all official.

* During a 26-minute conference call with Boston reporters on Wednesday, Rivers repeatedly noted that he never tried to force his way out of Boston. No, but his indecisiveness forced the issue a bit and, even if Ainge did broach the subject of other opportunities, you can't help but wonder how long Ainge could have possibly waited for a firm answer from Rivers.

Ainge and owner Wyc Grousbeck have been adamant that they wanted Rivers to fulfill the three years remaining on his Boston contract. Ainge understood Rivers' leeriness about the impending rebuild, but still seemed disappointed that the coach didn't want to tackle it, particularly after signing such a lucrative deal two summers ago while knowing Boston's veterans wouldn't be around forever.

That said, Ainge and ownership obviously saw value in moving a less-than-fully-committed Rivers in order to both obtain a future asset and drive down costs for a team that might take some lumps while shuffling the roster, regardless of whether that overhaul happens this summer or next.

So whose side are you on? Team Danny or Team Doc? Chances are Celtics fans are already sick of this saga. They are committed to Team MovingOn.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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