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Ball Don't Lie

Doc Rivers is reportedly hesitant to return to coach the Boston Celtics, which makes sense

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge during Doc's contract extension press conference in 2011 (Getty Images)

One has to take a “source close to the situation” and a “source familiar with their line of thinking” with a rather large grain of salt, but it has been nearly six weeks since the Boston Celtics’ season has ended, and they appear no closer than they were in early May in figuring out just how to move forward with this aging team. Paul Pierce could be waived in a cost-cutting move later this month, Kevin Garnett is the subject of frequent trade and retirement rumors, and even though coach Doc Rivers told the media that he would be “coming back until I say I'm not” following the team’s first-round loss to New York last month, that hasn’t stopped the chatter.

Take it for what you will, but ESPN’s Chris Broussard dropped this on Wednesday morning:

"Doc loves coaching," the source told ESPN. "He loves coaching in Boston. But he feels it may be time for a change."

Rivers, who has been attending the Celtics' pre-draft workouts, is unsure of what he wants to do and has not yet ruled out returning to Boston for a 10th season. He has a very close relationship with Ainge, and the source said that is one factor that is making his decision so difficult.

If Rivers were to walk away from the three years and $21 million remaining on his contract with the Celtics, it is not clear whether he would seek another coaching job next season or sit out and possibly return to broadcasting.

Seeking another coaching job, as Broussard went on to relay, would have to come with Boston’s permission, as Rivers is under contract with the team until the 2016 offseason. Several prime openings remain – with playoff teams in Memphis and Brooklyn looking for head men, and the Los Angeles Clippers waiting to pounce on their new head coach – and all would immediately move to the well-respected and much-liked (and damn good) Doc Rivers should he choose to walk away.

Broussard and his source are also guessing that because Celtics general manager Danny Ainge and Rivers are so close, that Ainge would surely grant him permission to chase down another job.

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Paul Pierce during what could be his final game as a Celtic (Getty Images)

This puts Boston in a strange spot, as it's the only NBA franchise that has to do the bulk of its major decision making before the NBA’s free-agent season sports up in July. Pierce’s contract option must be declined prior to June 30, and if KG were to waive his no-trade clause and accept a deal to another team, a move during this month’s draft would seem preferable to dealing him to a team with cap room once the expiring contracts move off various NBA rosters on July 1.

If Rivers really is hedging, then this is probably the result of Ainge not completely knowing what he wants to do with Pierce and Garnett, and considering the gravity of such a pair of moves or non-moves involving Pierce and KG, we can’t blame him. The Celtics don’t want another version of what happened to the team toward the end of the Larry Bird era in Boston. Moves made on the fly to shore up the team’s core either failed miserably (trading Ainge for Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, botched negotiations with Brian Shaw) or ended tragically (dealing Gerald Henderson for Len Bias, building around the late Reggie Lewis) while Bird and McHale were retired without the Celtics receiving compensation for their absence.

With lead guard Rajon Rondo coming off of an ACL surgery, and with a moody past that has some wondering whether he’s right to lead a rebuilding squad, maybe Rivers is giving pause. Or maybe this story is bunk, especially in light of what Rivers said following his 2011 contract extension signing:

"This is a special place and I've said that before. You can't get a lot of these jobs where you coach teams like the Celtics, or the Red Sox, or the Yankees, and I have one of them. I work with a great [general manager] in Danny Ainge and I have good ownership, so why change?"

Even if that means rebuilding in the post-Big Three era.

"Well, I don't think anyone's looking forward to that, but I'm willing to do that," Rivers said. "I've had a group that has been very loyal to me, and I think it would have been very easy for me to just run, and go somewhere else and chase something else. Who says that we still can't do that, with free agency and adding the right pieces while our Big Three are getting older? We have to add the right supporting cast to them, and in that transition, hopefully we can still chase what we want. But it would have been easier to do it the other way. I just don't think it's the right thing to do. Coaches talk about loyalty and team all the time and I just thought it was time to show it, and that's what I did."

We can criticize Rivers for telling the media that he’d be “willing to” stick around for a rebuilding process before hedging, or we can take into account Doc’s patience in Ainge’s rebuilding process prior to the Big Three era. The man has already had to coach Ricky Davis.

These are just whispers, though, and the team still has two weeks until the draft to figure out its course. Everyone in this racket knew that a month like this would pop up some day – Pierce when he signed that deal, KG when he took in a contract that went on past Paul’s, Doc when he signed a deal that went on longer than all of theirs, and Ainge throughout – and now it’s time for an uncomfortable ticking toward June 30.

Whatever the end result, it’s been a fun ride. And it’s going to be compelling to see who is still on the roller coaster by the time autumn rolls around.

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