Doc Rivers' difficult return to Boston

I mentioned it when Steve Kerr stepped down from the Phoenix Suns a few weeks ago, and I think the idea holds up. Doc Rivers could be ultra-peeved at Steve Kerr for sliding into Doug Collins' available TNT job while Doc was stuck coaching in the finals. Good-naturedly peeved, mind you, but ... grr, Steve Kerr.

Listen, Doc agreed to coach the Celtics in 2010-11 because he digs this team. He's ultra-competitive, he wants to coach, and he truly feels (as he should) that the right set of circumstances could allow Boston another shot at the ring next June. He's not coming back to the Celtics for illegitimate reasons.

But Kerr's Phoenix departure took away Rivers' best option for next year. The guy could have stepped down, fresh off the impressive push he gave his Celtics toward being a fourth quarter away from another ring, taken a TNT gig, worked once a week, worked on that golf game in Florida, and hung around the kids that he hasn't been able to see much since, well, ever.

Rivers played, took off from 1996 until his 1999 hire by the Orlando Magic, worked for ABC for a spell in 2003-04, and then took to the Celtics job. He's been gone, quite a bit, and that can't be easy. Especially with the family staying behind in Florida.

And now he'll have to preside over what we expect to be a rather intense final season for the Celtics, working with a team that could be a few fluke signings from looking nothing like it looked last year.

I mean that. What if Paul Pierce(notes) gets a little Elton Brand(notes) in him, and hops elsewhere? What if the Bulls make a massively front-loaded deal to Ray Allen(notes) for two years' work to play alongside some, um, superstar? What if Celtics general manager Danny Ainge initially offers Pierce a contract that isn't to his liking?

What if Ainge, worst of all, actually offers Pierce a deal that ably represents what he'll be worth in three years, at age 36? That's a legitimate fear, for Paul, to be offered a deal that (with the new collective bargaining agreement in Ainge's mind) has him working for $8 million a year at the end of it. Maybe less.

These are long shots, I know. But this is what Doc is returning to. No gimmie to be pushing the same team, a year older, and with the smack of contract negotiations possibly creating some hurt feelings to start things. Remember, it was last season's hot start that allowed Boston to even manage home-court advantage in the first round last year after its miserable ending. What if it can't muster that hot start again in 2010-11?

This is what Rivers is getting back into. I would push all my chips toward the idea that both Allen and Pierce return with absolutely no worries between them and the front office, Wyc Grousbeck wants to pay for a winner, and Ainge could find a way to bring even more talent in with Rasheed Wallace's(notes) contract to dangle. But this will not get easier. And it was one of the toughest jobs in the NBA to begin with.

Thanks a lot, Steve Kerr.

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