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BOSTON -- Are we past the point of no return with Doc Rivers?
Let's recap: Six weeks removed from the Boston Celtics' first-round playoff elimination and with the team staring at a potential long overdue roster overhaul this summer, the Celtics still have not received a commitment from the indecisive Rivers, who nearly stuffed Kevin Garnett into his getaway bag this past weekend in a discussed swap with the Los Angeles Clippers.
In a way, the Celtics are back at square one. Only it's a whole lot more awkward after this much-publicized flirtation with the Clippers.
For the first 42 uncomfortable days of Boston's early summer vacation, you could chalk Rivers' uncertainty up to his typical offseason detox. Then things got hot and heavy with the Clippers, and the teams went so far as to start discussing personnel that would be included in a potential deal (and getting hung up when Los Angeles balked at including Eric Bledsoe). Talks broke off Saturday night and -- with all quiet on Sunday -- the sides appear to be waiting to see who blinks first.
The NBA draft is 10 days away and free agency looms soon after. What a mess for Boston.
Where do the Celtics go from here? There's certainly the possibility of continuing negotiations with the Clippers, maybe trying to rework the package by sending out additional cap-clogging contracts and taking back a different player in a swap that figures to include DeAndre Jordan and at least one first-round pick.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge understandably wants a king's ransom in exchange for giving Rivers his coaching freedom. Ainge, who was adamant that Rivers would return earlier this offseason, doesn't want to give up one of the league's elite coaches -- and maybe Boston's biggest current trade asset -- without expediting an overhaul that no one is eager to endure.
But Saturday's stalled negotiations might have weakened Boston's position a bit. The Clippers can posture that they are content to sign a free-agent coach such as Lionel Hollins or Brian Shaw, something that won't deplete their roster. The Celtics are left hoping that Los Angeles is so smitten by the idea of adding Rivers -- who almost certainly makes it a slam dunk for the Clippers to retain Chris Paul -- and Garnett that they reevaluate what they're willing to give up to make it happen.
|If Doc Rivers returns, he may have some explaining to do to Celtics players such as Avery Bradley.|
But what if they don't?
Can the Celtics really welcome Rivers back with open arms? How can Rivers relay a message of team and loyalty when this process has suggested that he'd rather jump ship in order to chase a title in a sunny climate?
Rivers, such a powerful speaker, can save face publicly. A fan base that's been left squeamish by the idea of rebuilding with a new coach would eventually forgive and forget.
But the players? Courtney Lee and Jason Terry came to Boston in large part because of Rivers' recruitment last summer; Jeff Green cited his bond with Rivers as a big reason he inked a long-term deal with the Celtics after heart surgery. Rivers would have to regain their trust.
And how do Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce feel about all this?
It's not unfathomable that if Rivers returns, it will add a layer of difficulty to an offseason that already has no easy answers. And even if Rivers does come back, Boston still has to pick a direction to pursue. Running it back with Garnett and the veterans might make it easier to drown out any backlash (though Garnett's got some explaining to do, too), but a rebuild with a coach not 100 percent committed to that process is a bit more daunting.
And you can't help but wonder if the Celtics really want to pay a coach $7 million to be something less than fully committed to flipping this roster.
All of which makes you wonder -- even if this Clippers deal falls apart -- would Rivers simply consider an escape to the broadcast booth to bide time until the urge to coach again overwhelms him. That's just about the worst-case scenario for Boston -- and if Rivers is so desperate to move on, he could use that as leverage to encourage a deal with the Clippers.
Some have wondered if Rivers' departure would be on the level of Ray Allen's defection to rival Miami last season. On one hand, Rivers is under contract (three years, $21 million remaining) and is basically going against much of what he said in regard to loyalty when he signed a five-year, $35 million extension two summers ago. At least Allen was a free agent when he took less money and went championship chasing with the Heat. With Miami on the cusp of getting another ring, it's hard to knock his decision, as cold as it seemed at the time.
If Rivers is to stay in Boston, he needs to speak soon. He needs to stem this bubbling negativity in a town that so desperately demands faithfulness from its sports heroes.
More than anything, the Celtics need to put this mess behind them. The past couple of weeks have turned into a major headache that has further clouded their offseason. It's time to figure out who's in and who's out.
And that starts with Rivers.