Doc Rivers: “Coaches talk about loyalty and team all the time. I just thought it was time to show it”
Doc Rivers could have retired to spend time with his family. He could have allowed his contract to expire and immediately taken the reins of another team. He could have taken one year off and chosen whatever job opening he wanted. But it wouldn’t have felt right. Not after the loyalty the Celtics showed him four years ago, when he was coming off a 24-58 season and the town of Boston wanted his head. Not after four years of coaching a group that could rival his fierce competitive streak. Not after all the elating wins and devastating losses and time spent building relationships with his players.
He couldn’t turn on Danny Ainge now, nor could he turn on Steve Pagliuca, Wyc Grousbeck, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, or Ray Allen. Even with the franchise’s uncertain future looming like an approaching storm, even though he could have chosen any other coaching job in the league, Rivers signed a five-year contract extension to stay in Boston.
“It would have been easier to do it the other way,” he told WEEI during an interview. “I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Coaches talk about loyalty and team all the time. I just thought it was time to show it. And that’s what I did.”
The future does worry Rivers. He knows the Big Three are becoming moldy as they approach their expiration date, and has already begun devising ways to maximize their production.
“Kevin Garnett, for example,” he said. “Instead of playing him two stints in a half, which is equal to 32 minutes, you have to play him five-minute increments to let him play with his pure power, give him a rest, bring him back in. I think substituting him that way will keep him fresher longer.”
Even with fewer minutes dispersed in different intervals, Rivers sees next year as the Big Three’s final run. He knows they can still produce like superstars on occasion—think Garnett’s 28-point, 18-rebound performance in Game 3—but the days when they could do that every game are over. A passing of the torch will occur soon. The Big Three will retire or they will become bit pieces, and Ainge will need to surround Rajon Rondo with new superstars if the Celtics plan to skip a long-term rebuilding process reminiscent of the Gerald Green days. If it comes to that rebuilding, Rivers is willing to stick around for that. But he hopes it won’t be necessary.
“Who says that we still can’t [reload] with free agency and adding the right pieces?” he asked. “While our Big Three are getting older, we have to add the right supporting cast to them. In that transition, hopefully we can still chase what we want.”
The Celtics presumably want titles, or at least long playoff runs that extend until late May or some time in June. Rivers wants that too, of course, but looks to a man who doesn’t have a single title as one of his coaching role models. Jerry Sloan spent 22 title-less years coaching the Utah Jazz. He became almost synonymous with John Stockton and Karl Malone, but outlasted his two superstars to rebuild the Jazz almost from scratch. Even in Utah’s rebuilding years Sloan kept them competitive; he had only one losing season during his entire Utah career. He never won a Coach of the Year Award (he was no Sam Mitchell, after all) and never did win a ring, but Sloan set the blueprint for long-tenured coaches.
“I look at the Utah situation and Jerry Sloan,” said Rivers. “And I look at the situation in San Antonio. Danny and I were talking — those are the two more stable franchises, because they’ve had the same coach and the same GM and the same ownership. They’ve been able to draft well, scout well, pick the right players for the system because they’ve known the system. When we talked about it, that’s what we want to do.”
Five years ago I was finishing up my AP Statistics final project so I could graduate from prep school. Raef LaFrentz and Ricky Davis started for the Celtics. I weighed 35 fewer pounds, still played basketball competitively, hated writing, and wore a set of metal braces on my teeth. Yes, I still had braces during my fifth (and final) year of high school. During home games after I would make a nice play, the crowd used to chant pro-metal mouth refrains: “He’s got braces, he’s got braces, he’s got braces… and you don’t!” Looking back, it probably wasn’t my proudest moment. The point is, a lot happens in five years.
There’s so much uncertainty in Boston’s future. How many productive years do the Big Three have left? Who will the Celtics sign to team with Rondo? Will Dwight Howard or another superstar consider Boston and the cold winters? More immediately, will Ainge re-sign Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic or Glen Davis? And perhaps most importantly, do the Celtics have a rebuilding process in their short-term prognosis, or will they simply reload?
Even though coaching contracts aren’t always honored, only one thing seems certain about the Celtics’ future: Doc Rivers will lead the way. There’s plenty left to figure out, but at least that’s a pretty good start.