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PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Clippers took a giant leap toward becoming a serious championship contender Wednesday, introducing Doc Rivers as their new coach and senior vice president of basketball operations during a news conference at the team's training facility.
"This is truly one of the biggest moments in Clipper history," team vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks said. "We feel [Rivers] is the best coach in the NBA and a perfect fit for this organization. Doc is a championship coach who brings a unique basketball mind to our team and to our organization. I think that he has not only the respect of everyone in our organization but all of our players and staff."
The Clippers will send the Boston Celtics an unprotected first-round draft pick in 2015 as compensation for letting Rivers out of the final three years of his contract. Rivers signed a similar three-year, $21 million deal with the Clippers.
After a prolonged on-again, off-again negotiation with the Celtics that lasted nearly two weeks, the Clippers finally were able to hire the coach that was at the top of their wish list when they parted ways with Vinny Del Negro in May. Rivers was still somewhat surprised he was in Los Angeles and was the Clippers coach, arriving to his introductory news conference wearing a gray short-sleeved shirt and slacks he hastily packed last night.
"This was a strange ordeal over the last couple of weeks to the point, as you can see my attire, I don't have any suits because they're all in Boston right now," Rivers said. "I flew in from Orlando. That's where I stay in the offseason, and I basically wear shorts and a T-shirt for the whole summer."
The Clippers' prying away Rivers from Boston was probably more wishful thinking than anything else when they began looking for a coach last month. They interviewed Byron Scott, Brian Shaw, Lionel Hollins, Alvin Gentry and Nate McMillan but took their time naming a coach, holding out hope they could get Rivers.
I thought that this just took a long, winding path, but it found its way and so I'm happy.” -- Doc Rivers
"When we started the process of pursuing a new coach, the determination was made that we should get the best coach and only the best coach and we shouldn't settle for anything less," Clippers president Andy Roeser said. "[Clippers owner Donald Sterling's] support makes it possible for us all to be here today."
It was long believed that Sterling never would pay a coach a respectable salary, and now he employs the highest-paid coach in the NBA. In fact, Rivers made at least twice as much as 20 of the 29 other NBA head coaches last season.
Several teams contacted the Celtics about Rivers' availability, but the Clippers' job was the only one he was interested in pursuing.
"The reason that I wanted this when it was made available [was] because of what they have and not what they don't have," Rivers said. "So I clearly think this is an extremely talented basketball team. There were times last year when they were the best team [in the league]. But what we have to figure out is, with the group we have, can we now do that in the postseason as opposed to just the regular season. So, I like the talent we have here, and obviously we're going to keep looking to improve."
When asked by Boston media in a separate 26-minute conference call why he left, Rivers said, "There's no answer."
"Honestly, that is one of those [questions] that there's no answer to it," Rivers said. "It's not like I was looking for change. This kinda came about, and I think [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] talked about that yesterday. Let me start by saying this: I didn't go into this whole process, I never went into Danny's office and we never had any conversations like, 'If you don't bring Kevin [Garnett] and Paul [Pierce] back, I don't want to come back.' I never went into his office and said that, 'If [Rajon] Rondo is there, I don't want to come back.' Rondo and I, our relationship has really grown and it's good. Danny and I, our relationship was great.
"It's just the same thing that I go through every year. At the end of the year, I just don't know if my time has run its course and if it's time for a change. Two years ago I thought about it and I ended up signing because, literally, at that time, I thought I had to sign. I just thought it was the right thing to do in the part where our organization was at. ... I just thought it would be the wrong time to leave. Last year, I thought about it some more, and this year, right after the year, right after the Knicks game, I told everyone, 'Thank you,' because, in my mind, after that game, right after that game, I was probably going to take a break, because I never thought that I could just leave and go somewhere else."
Rivers compiled 416 wins in nine seasons with the Celtics, third most in franchise history behind Red Auerbach and Tom Heinsohn. He guided the Celtics to the NBA Finals twice during his tenure, winning the 2008 title over the Los Angeles Lakers, which gave the Celtics their first championship since 1986. He also led the Celtics to six Atlantic Division titles, the 2010 Eastern Conference title and a 59-47 (.557) playoff record during his tenure. Rivers is one of only four active NBA coaches to win an NBA title, and since 2007-08, he owns the third highest winning percentage (.661) among current coaches.
He thought he would be with the Celtics as late as Sunday when he said that he informed Ainge he was ready to return.
"On Sunday, Danny and I were talking about our roster [for the Celtics], and then on Sunday night, this deal was agreed upon, so that's how volatile this whole thing was and had been," Rivers said. "I thought that this just took a long, winding path, but it found its way and so I'm happy."
Up until Monday, Ainge said he thought Rivers would be coaching the Celtics next season.
"It still probably hasn't hit me," Ainge said during a news conference Tuesday night. "I didn't really think it was going to happen. I have not talked to one coaching candidate at this point. I think [Monday] for the first time, really, I thought, 'This is going to happen. This is probably going to happen.' "
"[The emotional swing] was quick and it was strange," Rivers told Boston media. "I can tell you the whole timeline. I think my son, Spencer, played [an AAU game] at 10 a.m., so about 9:30, I was sitting in a parking lot in Gainesville, Ga., talking to Danny on the phone. I told him that my decision was that I needed to coach [and would return to Boston]. I hung up the phone and I turned the phone off, because that's what I do when I watch my kids play.
"Right after that first game ... I turned my phone on and [Rivers' agent] Lonnie [Cooper] had called me -- and my phone was on fire. And I'm thinking, 'Wow, what happened here?' So I called Lonnie ... and he said, 'Have you talked to Danny?' I said, 'I haven't talked to anybody. I've been watching a game.' He said, 'It looks like the deal is done.' I said, 'What deal? The deal's dead.' He said, 'No, the deal's done. Andy [Roeser] and Danny, for the last two or three hours, have kind of agreed on doing this deal. And so, now, the reason we've called you is to make sure that you still want to be involved in it.'
"So my emotions then were all over the place, because I had to kinda redo them. And, honestly, I thought we had gone down this road for so long and so far, I just thought, obviously, if Danny could get a [first-round draft] pick [as compensation], I just thought it was time. It was the right thing to do."
Rivers' first order of business with the Clippers, outside of Thursday's NBA draft, is getting free-agent guard Chris Paul to sign next month. Rivers said he called and texted many players on the Clippers, including Paul, after getting the job and said he would reach out to them again over the next few days.
"He's a priority, so obviously that's important for us," Rivers said of Paul. "I don't know Chris well at all. I've gotten to know him. I've talked to him many times. I've broken up a couple fights between him and [Rajon] Rondo. The first time I ever touched Chris Paul, I was trying to pull him away from my guy. I like his feistiness. I've always liked that in guards. I like players that have a fire about them, so I've always like Chris because of that."
ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg contributed to this report.