Coaches in question

Boston Celtics ownership should tell Doc Rivers he's fortunate to come back for the final year of his contract, that, at $5 million a season, they'll no sooner give him an extension than choose Sam Bowie over Greg Oden in the draft.

Doc's is a familiar and tired old dance, with the coach privately pleading that it would undermine his authority to bring him back in the last year of his deal without an extension. The Celtics can waste money as they see fit, but guaranteeing that contract with the belief that it benefits the locker room is a failed premise.

If Boston does this, it must believe its players are stupid. So the Celtics give Rivers an extension this summer, and thus, the players say to themselves, "Now we have to play hard for him, have to listen, because we're sure he'll be around for the long term?"

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Who's kidding whom here? Boston knows that another bad season gets Rivers' extension blown up and gets it a new coach. As Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy has always said, "The only thing guaranteed is the money."

College coaches are famous for this hustle. They need an extension for recruiting, as though prospects never see coaches get fired with years left on their deals. It's a money grab, pure and simple. Athletic directors fall for it, and so do general managers and owners.

If you want to give Rivers the benefit of the doubt with all the teeny-boppers, injuries and Danny Ainge deals, most can live with it. Rivers continues to want to take credit for Al Jefferson getting better, but most league officials wonder why his progression didn't come faster.

For now, Rivers doesn't need more money to make his team better. He could use a better coaching staff, especially a savvy defensive mind on his bench. Instead of paying Rivers for a year or two that he'll probably never coach, the Celtics would be wiser to invest in a Dick Harter-type aide to sit with Doc next season. If Rivers really wanted to solidify himself in the locker room, that would be a smarter way to go.


Around the league, here are the coaching issues surrounding several franchises.

Charlotte Bobcats. Everyone laughs at the mention of Butch Carter as a candidate to replace Bernie Bickerstaff. Yes, he flipped out with the Raptors, picked fights, tried to sue Marcus Camby, blah, blah, blah. Listen, he did a terrific job turning a loser into a 45-win playoff team in 2000. He was an excellent tactician and just far enough out there to keep his players antsy, unsure whether they really wanted to mess with him.

Bobcats minority partner Michael Jordan craves tough guys on the bench, but what this franchise loves even more is to keep everything on the cheap. Sam Mitchell is a possibility if things fall apart in his negotiations with Toronto. There's always the Carolina connection with Larry Brown, but he'd have to be willing to take less money to work for Charlotte. Brown wouldn't take less money to walk across the street.

Indiana Pacers. Someone has to take a fall in Indiana, and Rick Carlisle is clearly the choice, no matter how distasteful that firing would be to his close friend, Larry Bird.


More than one NBA advance scout insists that Carlisle lost his team at times this season. And his personality, difficult to say the least, doesn't help him win allies when times are tough. Jermaine O'Neal could have some say on the matter, and a source close to the Pacers star says he's ambivalent on Carlisle. He could take him or leave him.

If Carlisle somehow gets that eighth seed away from Orlando – and it's looking more unlikely with the Magic leading by two games with three to play – that momentum might be enough to bring him back next season. Otherwise, he's in trouble.

Toronto Raptors. After waiting to see if his combustible coach had staying power, Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo has delivered his public blessing to Sam Mitchell. He let his coach go into the final year of his contract and watched him deliver the best turnaround in the league, an Atlantic Division title and so far, 46 victories.

Mitchell could be tempted to use his leverage to uproot for Charlotte, but there's too much talent, too much of a future, in Toronto. If Colangelo low-balls Mitchell with an offer and dares him to walk away, that could still be his way to backdoor his old pal, Phoenix assistant Marc Iavaroni, into the job.


With a playoff series victory over a depleted Wizards squad almost assured, how could anyone but Mitchell be the Raptors' coach next season?

Memphis Grizzlies. Tony Barone Sr. did his duty as interim coach, clinching the league's worst record and the best chance to land the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery. Right now, this is the most unappealing coaching opening in basketball. There is an owner who wants to sell, a G.M. who wants to retire, a franchise player who wants a trade and a roster that, well, no one wants.

Of course, everything changes for Memphis with Oden or Kevin Durant. The Grizzlies need a savior, and rest assured, he won't be found on the sidelines. West will probably stay long enough to hire a coach, and several league sources say he's high on Iavaroni. Unless West has the Ohio State or Texas star to offer the next coach, the money that Memphis will pay a coach wouldn't be so overwhelming that Iavaroni would think the Grizzlies are his best play.

Still, Oden or Durant would make this job impossible to turn down.


Here's the one wildcard: University of Memphis coach John Calipari, who has never lost his desire to return to the NBA.

Miami Heat. If Pat Riley thinks Shaquille O'Neal has another good run left in him, don't discount him returning for one final championship shot in Miami.

The Heat emperor has all but promised his successor will rise out of his own staff, with Erik Spoelstra and Bob McAdoo the candidates. In the Van Gundy mold, Spoelstra is a gym rat non-player, but how does Riley sell choosing him over McAdoo, a Hall of Famer who has apprenticed for years under Riles?

Outside the organization, the possibility of Florida's Billy Donovan forever lingers, given his relationship with Riley and Donovan's desire to someday coach in the league. Still, Shaq has made it clear that he isn't interested in playing for a college coach. It would take Riles to do a major selling job on O'Neal.


New Jersey Nets. Lawrence Frank is going to get a pass, held blameless for the rash of injuries and locker room dysfunction that played a part in an underachieving Nets season. Nevertheless, there are some officials within the franchise, team sources say, who want to see owner Bruce Ratner make a coaching splash for pure marketing purposes.

The desired candidate? Florida's Donovan, a New York native.

Still, Nets president Rod Thorn is loyal to Frank, so expect Frank to be on the sideline to start next season.

Philadelphia 76ers. Billy King had to come out and promise that Maurice Cheeks will return next season, which means only one thing: The Sixers G.M. is going to feel horrible when Larry Brown decides he wants the job for himself.


With three first-round picks, the Sixers have a chance to shape their future through the draft. If one of those choices turns out to be Oden or Durant, you can forget "consultant" Brown bailing on the 76ers for an opening elsewhere.

Sooner or later, Brown will push Cheeks aside, and take the job for himself.

Sacramento Kings. The Maloofs have been thoroughly unmoved with Eric Musselman's turbulent season, especially considering that the co-owners were the driving force behind pushing Rick Adelman out a year ago. This time, sources say, the Maloofs will leave G.M. Geoff Petrie to make the call on the coach's future.

As one Kings source warned: "There are not a lot of candidates out there to replace him with."


Seattle SuperSonics. Just when you thought Bob Hill had set a world windbag record for blaming everyone else in his embarrassingly failed regime at Fordham University, he's taken excuse-making to greater planes. Of course, no one buys his transparent act. Soon, one of the game's ultimate survivors will be done, once and for all.

The Sonics need to return to the firm hand of the Nate McMillan regime that yielded such resounding results. Lenny Wilkens could be the executive making this coaching hire, and Carlisle, who did a season of Sonics broadcasting between jobs with the Pistons and Pacers, could be the choice.

The sleeper pick: Rick Adelman. He isn't a tough guy, but he's a pro. And after Bob Weiss and Bob Hill, the Sonics need some credibility.