Friday, May 13, 2011
Doc Rivers, Celtics agree on new deal
By Chris Forsberg
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was making his way to a makeshift podium for his end-of-season news conference when his cell phone rang. Ainge politely excused himself, joking that it was his next head coach.
Only he wasn't joking. It was Doc Rivers, who had just landed back in Orlando, delivering the good news that after ironing out the final details, he and the Celtics had agreed to a five-year contract extension.
"I think Doc is the best coach in the league, so I think it's great for us, to have him around," Ainge said.
The value of the contract is $35 million over the five years, according to sources.
After the Celtics fell to the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals, Rivers took some time to ponder a coaching hiatus before agreeing to a one-year deal to return to the Celtics. Ainge said this current contract offer has been on the table virtually the entire time and Rivers, Ainge, and ownership held occasional conversations about a long-term agreement during this past season.
Then at the start of the postseason, with Rivers' coaching future still uncertain and the topic creating much speculation, those talks kicked into high gear.
"Doc has always known that we've wanted him and that offer was on the table," Ainge said. "I would say that, early in the playoffs, as the playoffs first started, we started that conversation again. He understood it was important for me to know what he wanted to do, because [the offseason] is a long process and there's a lot of things going on in the summer. He spent some time with his family and made his decision a little earlier this time."
Rivers said he was "leaning heavily" toward returning to the Boston bench after the Heat ended his team's season with a Game 5 win Wednesday in Miami. Rajon Rondo joked the team wasn't going to let him go back on his word after he informed the players of the same sentiment after the game.
Now, with Rivers in the fold, it appears the Celtics will have both their coach and their Big Four core of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for one more run at a world title.
But Ainge is thrilled to have Rivers well beyond that as well.
"Doc wants to be here," Ainge said. "It's not all because he thinks that over the next five years we're going to have the best team in the NBA. He feels like he's part of this franchise, he likes working here, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to help us be successful."
Rivers often has hinted at loyalty to the Celtics for the faith they showed in him even when the team went through some lean years before the Big Three was assembled. Boston endured a 24-win season in 2006-07, suffering a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak along the way.
Ainge never questioned Rivers' abilities.
"I saw determination, hard work, persistence, and a great leader," Ainge said. "In the face of adversity, there's no one I'd rather have on my side than Doc."
Ainge did admit he was worried at times the past two seasons that Rivers indeed might walk away to spend more time with his family. During the 2010-11 season, Rivers had two children playing collegiate athletics in son Jeremiah (Indiana basketball) and daughter Callie (Florida volleyball), and two children playing high school baskeball in sons Austin and Spencer (Winter Park High in Orlando).
Now, Jeremiah and Callie have graduated; Austin will be a freshman at Duke, while Spencer will enter his sophomore year of high school. The Celtics always have allowed Rivers the flexibility to attend his kids' games during the NBA season.
Ainge knew Rivers was burnt out after the 2010 Finals, but the coach was allowed the necessary time and space so as not to make an emotional decision.
"He was exhausted because he works extremely hard. There was a time when he was burnt out," Ainge said. "But you play some golf, watch some AAU basketball, then you want to get back to work. I wish I could get three months off [during the summer] and go play golf every day."
As the NBA prepares for an uncertain summer of its own, Ainge admitted it was good to have Rivers secured before any potential work stoppage could halt business.
"That's a good thing to have done, to have Doc in the fold," Ainge said. "But the most important thing is that we have a really good coach for years to come. That's exciting."
In his seven seasons with the Celtics, Rivers boasts a 336-238 regular-season record and has made five postseason appearances (46-34 in the playoffs). During the Big Three era, he's taken the Celtics to two NBA Finals, winning the franchise's 17th title in 2008 (and nearly an 18th before losing to the Lakers in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals).
Rivers won the NBA's Coach of the Year Award during the 1999-2000 season, the first of four years with the Orlando Magic. He was fired there after a 1-10 start to the 2003-04 campaign.
Rivers is one of only four coaches to win 300 games in Boston, sitting with an elite group that includes K.C. Jones (308), Tommy Heinsohn (427), and Red Auerbach (795).
Asked after passing Jones if he might ever catch Auerbach, Rivers laughed and said: "No, that ain't going to happen. I can guarantee you that."
With at least five more years on the Boston bench, he might not catch Auerbach, but he's almost certain to end up No. 2 behind him in wins.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.