HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We always seem to find coach Doc Rivers and his Boston Celtics in this position at the end of a season.
Perhaps it has something to do with the exhausting effort the Celtics put in each and every season, or the grueling emotional fallout from coming up short of their ultimate goal (it’s always championship-or-bust in Boston, even when the rest of us understand that it’s not possible). Rivers always seems spent when the ball stops bouncing, like he’s not sure if he has another season in him, regardless of his contract situation.
The way he and Kevin Garnett acknowledged the end in that Game 6 loss to the New York Knicks last week, it certainly felt like the end of an era was near. But maybe not. Celtics boss Danny Ainge spoke publicly on a radio show in Boston about both Rivers and Garnett coming back for another go at it next season.
They’re both under contract and even with the inevitable changes that are sure to come in the offseason, Ainge is counting on those two franchise pillars to be in place. At least that’s what he said on the radio, as Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com details here:
“Doc is always unsure [about his future],” Ainge said. “Coaching is very, very draining. Every year with Doc, he’s had to go home and sort of recharge and ask himself that question, ‘Is this something that I’m passionate about and want to continue doing?’ I understand that. And we sorta give him time to unwind and relax, and after a couple of 92s on the golf course, he usually comes back.”
Pressed further on what he believes Rivers will do next season, Ainge added, “I think Doc will be coaching the Boston Celtics.”
Rivers signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension with the Celtics following the 2010-11 season. That hasn’t stopped his name from dancing in rumors about other vacant jobs, and a report by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith suggested there were whispers around the league about a potential deal that could land Rivers, Garnett, and Paul Pierce with the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a blockbuster swap.
Said an amused Ainge: “Hey, listen, those things are silly. Those are a waste of time to even acknowledge.”
Pressed on Smith’s suggestion that there could be lingering friction between Ainge and Rivers, Ainge added, “Well, you’d have to ask Doc what he thinks, but what I think is that I have the best coach in the NBA and I’m not the least bit tired of hearing his voice. We have a great relationship from what I feel, and what I perceive, and so I have no idea where that’s coming from. But it’s certainly not coming from my side of the table.”
Ainge has every reason to support his coach. Rivers has held the Celtics together through some absolutely tumultuous times over the past couple of seasons, given the injuries to both Garnett, Rajon Rondo and others as well as the roster shuffling that has gone on since the Celtics played in The Finals in 2010.
There is a genuine love between Rivers and his veteran leaders. It’s a bond that will be extremely difficult for Ainge to break up. And make no mistake, there will come a time when the remaining nucleus of the Celtics’ championship crew of Garnett, Pierce and Rondo will no longer be a viable unit.
The Celtics’ vets aren’t getting any younger. And even with an influx of youth (Jeff Green and Avery Bradley) and fresh faces (Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford), the playoff load was just too much for Garnett and Pierce to handle without Rondo around to help direct the traffic.
“We need more,” Rivers said. “It’s like that little girl on the commercial said. ‘We need more, we need more because we need more.’ We need more, because we do. The key for us is do you want to take away to get more. And that will be a decision that make … later.”
Rivers is fiercely loyal to the players who have sacrificed for the greater good in Boston. So it won’t be easy for him to part ways with Pierce either, especially with Pierce’s history with the franchise.
“He’s one of the greatest Celtics ever to ever play. He’s done so much for this franchise,” Rivers said. “Listen, we live in a day and time when guys are changing teams like socks. And Paul has chosen to stay here throughout his career, when clearly he had all rights to leave. And he chose to stay here. I have so much respect for him for that. When I first got here we were really rebuilding. Its’s funny, we made the playoffs that first year and I remember telling him that ‘we’re going to change our team and things may not go very well for a year or two.’ And they didn’t. And Paul, he never wavered. I give him that and just an amazing amount of respect. He wanted to get it done here. He made that choice … [where] other guys are running around trying to find it.”
Ainge will ultimately have to make the decision on when the Celtics’ Big 3 era officially comes to an end. Ray Allen‘s departure last summer didn’t do it. Neither did Rondo’s season-ending knee injury nor the deflating end to this season.
If Rivers and Garnett do indeed return, whether Pierce stays on or not, the Celtics are poised to make at least one last run together before the inevitability of it all finally catches up to them.