HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Danny Ainge didn’t have to say it for folks to connect the obvious dots about the departure of Doc Rivers for Los Angeles and the fact that Ainge wanted no part of the transaction.
Sure, he said all the right things Tuesday night while trying to answer the questions of the assembled media and talked fondly of Rivers, his nine-year stint in Boston and their fantastic working relationship that ended officially earlier Tuesday when Rivers was announced as the Clippers’ new coach and senior vice president of basketball operations.
You could tell it’s eating him alive, that no matter how many times he insists that it was a “win, win, win” for all involved, he knows that the Celtics are losing much more than just a coach.
Ainge said he’s been around long enough to know that “everyone is replaceable.”
But you don’t lose your partner in crime for nearly a decade and not feel it deep down.
The friendship between the two of them appears to have remained intact. How else do you preside over a deal where Rivers is allowed to leave his three years and $21 million remaining on his contract for the same deal with the Clippers?
Ainge could have made things as messy as he wanted to for Rivers if there wasn’t an underlying trust and true friendship between the two of them. Ainge wouldn’t bite when asked repeatedly if he was disappointed in Rivers or if he felt Rivers had “quit” on the Celtics after they had shown him the money with that five-year, $35 million deal he signed two years ago.
He made it clear that leaving was what Rivers wanted, that he wanted to chase new opportunities at this stage of his career, which is his prerogative. He holds no ill will toward Rivers, and expressed his sentiment that fans in Boston follow his lead.
And the feeling is apparently mutual, based on what Rivers told ESPNBoston.com‘s Jackie MacMullan:
“I always knew when I took the job with Boston that I would love the Celtics,” said Rivers, in his first public comments since he entered negotiations with the Clippers. “I knew I would love the tradition and the players. But I had no idea how much I would fall in love with the city and the people in it. Honestly, I get emotional thinking about it. I will cherish every single moment I had in Boston.”
All the emotion aside, Ainge still seemed stunned that he was sitting behind that microphone. He knows the business better than most. He recognizes how fickle the true superstars, coaches and players, can be when it comes to what motivates them (money often tops the list) and what inspires them (championships always top the list).
Rivers attained both with the Celtics. So it wasn’t ridiculous for Ainge to assume he’d avoid the coaching search that a dozen other franchises have had to deal with or are dealing with these days.
That makes it easier to answer some of those obvious questions that we all had when the presser began.
Was Ainge on board with the move?
Did he want Rivers to steer the ship through whatever rebuilding process is to come?
Did he believe as recently as Sunday that Rivers would indeed be the Celtics coach for the duration of his contract?
He certainly did.
The Celtics’ crew of Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce might have strolled off into the sunset together (Ray Allen escaped a bit earlier, joining the Miami Heat for their championship run this season). There was a chance the Celtics’ Big 3 era would get the proper send off.
But not now. Not with Rivers trading in his gig working with the aging stars he loved coaching and bonding with for the challenge that awaits with the Chris Paul (presumably), Blake Griffin and the same DeAndre Jordan who was rumored to be on his way to Boston in a deal for Garnett that certainly won’t happen now that the NBA has forbidden the Clippers and Celtics from conducting any other business with each other until this time next year.
Ainge said the wound is still so raw that he hasn’t even spoken to any potential candidates who could replace Rivers. He said the shock of it all being over hasn’t really hit him yet.
When asked if he wants Garnett and Pierce back next season, Ainge’s answer said it all.
“I love Paul and KG,” he said, “and we haven’t made that decision yet.”
Make no mistake, decisions made or not, this era of Celtics basketball is officially over.