An almost -- and unsettled -- reunion
The absence of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce is taken from Doc Rivers' playbook
LOS ANGELES -- At some point, Doc Rivers just had to tell Kevin Garnett to stay home. Every game the notoriously intense Garnett wasn't healthy enough to play was a nightmare. He was insufferable on the bench and worse in the locker room. Eventually Rivers just told him to stay home.
"He drove me crazy," Rivers joked. "It was better for him to just stay home if he couldn't play."
Eventually Rivers accorded Paul Pierce the same latitude. He wasn't as insufferable as Garnett when he was injured, but if KG didn't have to come when he was hurt, Pierce was due the same treatment.
That's how it was in Boston, anyway.
And it appears that's how it'll be in Brooklyn, too.
Instead of a reunion between Rivers and two of the men he'd forged such a deep bond with in Celtic green Saturday night at Staples Center, we got a reminder of just how much things have changed.
Rivers is in Los Angeles now, trying to make winners out of the Clippers. Garnett and Pierce stayed home, resting various injuries. The Nets were trying to win without four of their starters, still wondering if this grand experiment they've leapt headlong into is all going to work out.
The Clippers ended up winning the game 110-103, but that was just the official accounting. Nothing else was settled here Saturday night, and you get the feeling nobody involved in the massive transactions that sent them all to their new homes this summer has a real idea yet how it's all going to work out.
New Nets coach Jason Kidd had a bond with Garnett and Pierce as a player, but will that translate into a coach-player relationship?
The Celtics let them all go before it was too late, but how long will it take to reboot? And even if they can, will it ever be as good as what they had?
It was telling that Kidd went along with a system established for Garnett and Pierce on nights they didn't play. Did he come to the same realization Rivers had? Or was he just choosing which battles to fight?
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"That was something we set up in Boston, not the Brooklyn Nets have to deal with it," Rivers said with a laugh. "That was kind of funny.
"It still would've been nice to play against them. I was looking forward to it, but not looking forward to it, if you know what I mean. The only guy I could trash talk out there was Jason Terry and that was no fun."
The next chance at a reunion will come Dec. 12, when the Clippers travel to Brooklyn. In a fun twist, they play in Boston the previous night. So the storyline will undoubtedly be revisited again soon.
But you get the feeling everything will still feel unsettled. That's how change is. There's the initial reaction, the new scenery and people and places. And that's fun for a while. But when you come back together and start taking stock of how things are better and worse, mostly you just end up reflecting on how good things were before.
"They're just so darn professional," Rivers said of his time with Garnett and Pierce in Boston. "I caught them at the perfect time. They had no other reason to play basketball except to win. They'd already had an individual career. That made it very easy to coach them. Every game was just a battle to try and figure out how to win that game. There was very little clutter."
Clutter is one of those words Rivers uses all the time. His new team is still learning what it means. Garnett and Pierce just know.
It's a bond they'll always have, and one that might even grow stronger now.
"We talk to each other a lot, text each other a lot. I think sometimes we contact each other more," Rivers said. "As a coach, especially in the offseason I try to avoid conversation with my players because they hear for nine months and they don't need to hear you. But now that you're not with them, you pick up a phone, you see something funny, you text them. It's been like that with a lot of my guys, Tony Allen and [Kendrick Perkins].
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"Mike Fratello had it right, 'That's probably the best part of coaching, the afterlife with your players when you start having relationships with 'em.' "
They all knew they had to move on at some point. Their run together had run its course. It wasn't a pleasant idea to digest, but it wasn't unnatural, either.
"I thought we were close to the end," Rivers said. "Danny [Ainge] and I did talk about that a lot. We had to make some changes there. There was no doubt about that. Either by adding more guys to support them. Trying to carry a team at those ages is very hard. Health at those ages is very hard.
"Kevin I'd cut down to 25 minutes last year. Then you had to just try to pray that you'd get them to the playoffs. I don't know what the right time is, sometimes there is none. You just let it end. You let them go through and retire. Some organizations do that. There's no right or wrong answer to that either way."
He's right. It's a matter of organizational preference. The Celtics have a belief in reinvention and rebirth. Their hated rivals in Los Angeles believe there is always another way.
The Nets and Clippers became part of this discussion by embracing the Celtics' legends, both organizations hoping they still have some of that championship magic left. Otherwise they just ended up paying way too much to be cushy landing spots.
It's the cycle of things in the NBA.
At some point the new reality won't seem so new anymore. Garnett and Pierce will feel more like Nets than former Celtics. Kidd will feel more like their coach than the guy who came after Doc. Rivers will feel more like the Clippers' guy than the coach they traded with Boston for.
But that day is in the distance, still. It takes time to put down new roots and play by new rules. On this night at least, Garnett and Pierce were still playing by Doc's rules in Boston.