Doc Rivers expects to hear boos
BOSTON -- Doc Rivers arrived at TD Garden on Wednesday morning as an opposing coach for the first time in 10 years. Immediately upon entering his former team's home, he felt a little thrown by his surroundings.
Rivers spent nine seasons as Celtics coach before departing in June to become coach and senior vice president of basketball operations with the Clippers.
He made it clear that he will be battling emotions when he faces his former team.
It's going to be a hard night. ... I've already prepared my coaches to be good coaches tonight because it's going to be too tough for me.” -- Doc Rivers
"It's going to be a hard night," he said. "I already told my coaches that it's going to be hard. You don't spend nine years in one place and win a title, and have the emotions you have toward the city and the fans, and be normal when the game starts.
"It's just not going to happen; at least I don't think so. I've already prepared my coaches to be good coaches tonight because it's going to be too tough for me."
Rivers' exit from Boston was anything but smooth. He went back and forth on whether he wanted to spend his future coaching a rebuilding team in the East or a contender in the West before eventually leaving for Los Angeles. (The Celtics received the Clippers' first-round draft pick in 2015 in exchange for Rivers.)
Rivers and Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, have slightly differing versions of the events that preceded the coach's departure.
Many fans will likely stand and cheer Rivers for what he meant to the franchise, but there are those who say he walked out on the team with three years remaining on his contract.
"Well, I'm sure there will be some [booing], because they were booing when I coached," Rivers said, before shifting his tone. "I didn't do anything wrong. I decided to leave at some point. It should be all good. I had a good, wonderful time here. I have nothing but good things to say. That's for everyone else to expect [if I will be cheered or booed], all that other negative stuff. I have nothing but positive stuff for here."
Rivers also reflected on how his departure played out last summer.
"There wasn't a lot I could have done about it," he said. "Honestly, I did wish it could have ended better, I guess. It wasn't like Danny and I were arguing or anything. It was dragged out. I don't think there was any way you couldn't drag it out. It wasn't like I was involved in that. The part I was involved in was when I couldn't make up my mind on what I wanted to do.
More on the Clippers
For more news, notes and analysis of the L.A. Clippers, check out the Clippers Report. Blog
"After that [decision] went through, the process with the teams [discussing compensation] felt like it took two months. It may have. That's how it felt. The strange part for me during that whole thing is that I had to sit there, listen, and watch. That part I hated because it made everyone look bad and I didn't like that."
The Clippers arrived in Boston late Monday, which allowed Rivers time to catch up with old friends from his time in Boston.
"I had dinner with 12 of my best buddies from when I was here," he said. "It's just been good. The day and a half [in Boston], I had lunches with a couple of the owners and it's been really nice. It's been nice to be back, love it here obviously, and it's nice to see old friends."
Rivers was also candid in acknowledging he's thought about what might have been had he stayed in Boston.
"You always do that," he said. "At some point your voice has been heard too much. I had nine years, I had a great ride, and I do believe in change. I think it was important. It was important for me and probably important for the organization here, too. They're going to be good. They still have a lot of good players here that I coached. They're good players."
"The building is the same, you know?" Rivers said. "The Celtics are the same, if you know what I mean. That doesn't go away. The league didn't help me by [the Clippers] playing Brooklyn the next night [Thursday]."
The imprint Pierce, Garnett & Co. left on the franchise and Rivers' memories of them with Boston have helped the coach maintain fond memories of the franchise.
"They said it was going to be a two- or three-year run [with the Big Three]," he said, "but I never bought into that. Now we stretched it to, what, six years? Listen, the championship is what I'll remember."
Brian Robb is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.