MIAMI — Maybe, with Kendrick Perkins in the middle and Rajon Rondo with two healthy elbows, the Heat would be facing elimination tonight instead of the Celtics.
As it is, Boston is staring at three wins to stay alive, a tough task, and keeping Doc Rivers as coach, tougher still.
As ESPNBoston.com writer Peter May pointed out, Rivers could be coaching his last game on the Celtics bench tonight, and it is the rare example where a coach would leave on his own free will. Really, now: When’s the last time a playoff team begged a coach (besides Phil Jackson) to stay, and offered him millions, and the coach said no thanks I’d rather take some time off? And be better off for it, in the long run?
Yes, this is a wonderfully unique situation Rivers finds himself in. He almost left last summer, but after speaking with his family, decided to return for this, the final year of his deal. Rather than accept an extension, Rivers said he will have another pow-wow with his folks first, and I suspect the conclusion will be quite different this time.
If you’re Rivers, why return to the Celtics? They’re a good organization, make no mistake. But in the big picture, a break will do Rivers better. He can make up for half his income by doing TV, and Rivers is terrific behind the mic or in the studio. He can allow his batteries to recharge. He can watch his son, Austin, play as a freshman at Duke and his youngest child, Spencer, finish up high school. He can allow the NBA owners and the union to hammer out a labor contract first, which could change the dynamics of certain teams.
And then: He can become the hottest free agent coach in recent years, if not in history.
Rivers is the rare coach who is respected by all: players, general managers, his assistants, fans and the media. He has the gift of relating to anybody: the rich owner, the star player as well as the 12th man, the insecure GM and the aggressive media. You spend a few minutes with the man and you like him. Players want to play for him, and that’s the biggest compliment anyone can give a coach.
Once the Celtics formed the Big Three, Rivers showed what he could do with talent. He immediately led Boston to a championship and you could argue that, if not for injuries (to Kevin Garnett in 2009 and Perkins in Game 7 last summer) Boston would have at least one more title under Rivers.
Really, it shouldn’t be a tough decision for Doc. He can enjoy life and his family for a year (or two) while waiting for the right job to open. As in, find out where Dwight Howard is going.
Lawrence Frank, Doc’s assistant, would take over and the Celtics would be in decent hands. But there is uncertainty because change is on the horizon, with contracts ending for Garnett and Ray Allen after next season, forcing the Celtics to look for a new identity.
The first change, however, will be made by Rivers. A change for the better.