Doc Rivers acknowledges the Boston faithful upon his return (Getty Images)
Doc Rivers leaving the Boston Celtics? It was an amicable breakup, but not an easy one. Both sides saw significant reasons why the two should part and let those influences drive the parting, but both sides also respected each other and genuinely wanted the other side to do well in their varying pursuits.
For Rivers, his pursuit was for an immediate chance at a championship, which is why he left the Celtics to join the Los Angeles Clippers as head coach. For the Celtics? Mindful of the fact that they would not be able to trade and/or sign their way into championship contention over the course of the 2013 offseason, the team dealt Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Brookyln Nets for a bevy of draft picks and cap relief.
“Draft picks and cap relief” mean “rebuilding,” in NBA parlance, and though Rivers previously expressed a desire to hang around Boston once the “Big Three” era inevitably succumbed to age, his well-compensated services were clearly best utilized on a team that was ready to be pushed over the top. A team like the Clippers, who disappointed with a first round exit last season.
This is why Rivers, in talking with the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett, admitted that his wife Kris told him when he signed his 2011 contract extension with Boston that she knew he wasn’t long for Boston – presuming they to go with a youth movement. That doesn’t mean Rivers still doesn’t consider himself a Celtic for life, even if he did play with Hawks, Knicks, Clippers and Spurs and coached three teams so far in his career.
Rivers was reminded of that on the night of Dec. 11 when he returned to the Garden with the Clippers and received a long and loud ovation. Recalling it Sunday, his eyes grew a bit moist.
“This will sound strange, but what I loved about losing in my first three years is the people (expletive) cared,” he said. “When I’d be walking, a lady would come up to me and say, ‘You’ve got to play Al Jefferson more,’ or, ‘Doc, Kendrick Perkins needs to run the floor.’ I’m talking about ladies and older guys. I was walking down the street and a guy sitting next to his store says, ‘You going to play (Rajon) Rondo tomorrow?’ It was amazing, and I loved it. I’d stop sometimes and say, ‘What do you think?’ It was great.
“It wasn’t because they were trying to be (expletives); they actually cared about their team. It’s the same thing with the Red Sox. I’d sit on my balcony and watch people walk to work in a suit and tie and a Red Sox hat. In Boston, it’s not what’s in vogue, it’s for real.”
“I don’t give a (expletive) what I do the rest of my life, I’m always going to be a Celtic,” he said. “It’ll never go away. I don’t give a (expletive) what I do. I think even if I win 10 championships here, it’s different when you win with the Celtics. There are only a few organizations in sports that have that history and have that following, and I was with one for nine years.”
Denigrating the Clippers is a very easy task, but we’re not here to do that – at least not today. Rivers could be coaching the Lakers, Bulls or Knicks, in this case, and he’d still probably feel that way. Not only are the Boston Celtics special, but they’re also the team Rivers won his first NBA championship with.
Or, 2008 NBA championship aside, the Celtics are special. As Rivers sort of signed off on that when he detailed, with Bulpett, several compelling non-championship moments in the years before Garnett and Ray Allen became Celtics, and the C’s became championship contenders.
Rivers is in Los Angeles with the Clippers now, on a new version of a championship contender that truly has a chance to take a title or two even in the era of LeBron and co. The team’s defense has stayed about the same in comparison to Los Angeles’ work last year with Vinny Del Negro, and the squad’s offense has dipped slightly, but once healthy the Clippers at the very least seem like a contender; even if they’re on pace to win fewer games (without even considering Chris Paul’s recent shoulder injury) than VDN’s final season.
That’s not exactly praise you can bank on, but consistent rotations and patterned defensive and offensive sets go a long way during the NBA’s postseason, and while Rivers’ offense was lacking in Boston, you couldn’t discredit the depth of the playbook and the execution of its movement – oftentimes it was the scorers that were lacking, not the setup.
And on the flip side of that, Rivers could never criticize the depth and dedication of Boston Celtic fans. Even when they were coming off like a [expletive].
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