COMMENTARY | The Boston Celtics, as we have come to know them, have died of a broken heart caused by shattered dreams and other-worldly expectations.
Doc Rivers is no longer the head coach of the Celtics as a result of a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers that he in essence forced. Boston will receive a 2015 first-round draft pick from the Clippers as compensation for releasing Rivers out of the three years remaining on his contract. Rivers' departure at one point seemed unthinkable given the amount of bravado he had shown representing the green in recent years.
Still, he is gone and his exit leads to reflection on his tenure in Boston.
Rivers the hero
The list of heroic things Doc has done for the Celtics could fill the TD Garden to its capacity. In his nine seasons as head coach, the Celtics saw the playoffs seven times with two NBA Finals appearances. Along the way, he managed the brash egos of Hall of Famers and turned boys to men. The most impressive and heroic act (which he did on multiple occasions) was turning decrepit rosters into title-contending warriors.
The ironic thing about heroes is that they don't always come out on top. The Celtics were only able to win one championship under Rivers. Injuries and questionable roster decisions by Danny Ainge amputated hopes of multiple banners in Boston. Nevertheless, Rivers pressed on, giving pregame, in-game, and postgame speeches that made anybody within earshot ready to bleed green. He was able to maximize his roster by squeezing every last bit of talent and effort out of his players. Ever the optimist, Rivers refused to allow the Celtics to play dead despite early stages of rigor mortis. His "I won't write the obituary" speech after the Celtics lost Rajon Rondo to a season-ending knee injury earlier in the year was the kind of thing legends are made of.
The Celtics and their fans believed Doc when he spoke. He made them push a little harder and forced an almost delusional psyche that Boston could be champions despite father time and the multitude of injuries.
Rivers the scoundrel
One thing about Rivers that has been brought up in small circles is that he can be a dictator at times. This, of course, is hard to corroborate given that all coaches almost have to have a bit of that trait to gain respect and impose a winning philosophy.
Questionable rotations and refusal to play younger guys are some of the negatives he has had to explain. Knocks on Rivers have also come from departed members of the Celtics. Guys like Ray Allen, Nate Robinson and Glen Davis have all insinuated that Rivers didn't listen or always utilize their full skills. Allen claimed Rivers refused to use him as anything more than a spot-up shooter coming off screens. Allen wanted the opportunity to post up smaller guards and to handle the ball a bit more in the Rondo-dominated Boston offense. Watching Allen do some of those exact same things in Miami gives a little credence to his argument but not enough to vilify Doc on the charge completely.
Then, of course, there are the rumors of the rift between Rondo and Rivers that surfaced on multiple occasions. Rondo's personality is a bit prickly to say the least and it would be hard for any coach, dictator or not, to corral and focus his talent. If a rift did exist, it is not likely to be spoken on by Rivers but with Rondo, you never know.
There is no word on how Rondo or any of the remaining Celtics feel about Doc forcing his way out of town. Overwhelming sentiment from Boston media and fans is that Rivers went back on his word about wanting to bring stability to the franchise. That is practically unforgivable. Rivers was the voice behind the team's "I am a Celtic" campaign. He preached and instilled Boston's "Ubuntu" philosophy (the team's belief that I am because we are) and his quick change of heart about staying leaves a Benedict Arnold traitorous-taste in the mouths of the Celtics faithful.
Rivers the gentleman
Rivers was loyal to a fault to the players he trusted and, until recently, to the Boston community at large. He allowed his players to struggle through their difficulties. Seemingly his hope was to show his faith in them so they could in turn regain faith in themselves. As a player and a man, how could you not appreciate that?
Doc is a man with a great heart that at times gets conflicted, especially after a NBA season has commenced. It isn't likely that Rivers will sling any mud at the organization that left him short-handed despite the mudslide that is likely coming his way from the Boston fan base. His sense of conflicted allegiance is probably why he and Kevin Garnett have the relationship they do. It appears the struggle became too much for Rivers to bare. He is doing what he thinks is right for himself and the organization by moving on to a new opportunity. The rebuild in Boston is real, and the rebuild in Boston is now. Most importantly, the rebuild in Boston does not include Rivers in his own estimation.
It's ironic that the two most distinguished gentlemen from Boston's most recent resurgent era, Rivers and Allen, are now both gone. Like a gentleman, Rivers has shown himself the door but rudely turned off the lights on his way out, leaving the Celtics as we know them in darkness.
Warren Shaw is a NBA contributor to Dime Magazine and Co-host of the weekly basketball podcast "The Baseline". He has covered various NBA events live while also conducting one on one player interviews. His work can also be found at Celticslife.com and Prosportsblogging.com.
Follow him on Twitter @shawsports.
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