Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are in Brooklyn, Ray Allen is in Miami, Kendrick Perkins is in Oklahoma City, Tony Allen is in Memphis. So many familiar faces from nine seasons, especially the 2008 championship team, are scattered.
But it is Boston no matter what. Rajon Rondo and Danny Ainge are still there, and so are Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley and others. Jeff Green is still there, and to Doc Rivers, Green is “one of the best human beings to ever walk the earth, in my opinion, in the league.” The fans are still there.
Boston is forever for Rivers, and that includes Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in his first trip back as coach of his new team, the Clippers, against his old one, the Celtics, at TD Garden.
He isn’t even attempting to bluff that this is just another game.
“No, of course not,” Rivers told NBA.com. “I was there for nine years and won an NBA championship, played in another one and won six divisions. Hell, it’s a special place. It’s the place that made me. For the rest of my life, when I go to Boston, during the season or during the offseason, it’s another home for me.”
He grew up in Chicago, developed into a second-round pick at Marquette, played eight of 13 seasons as a guard in Atlanta (where he made his only All-Star appearance and still holds the franchise record for career assists) and has coached in three cities. But none is Boston.
It’s the place that made me.
“This is different,” Rivers said. “I won a title there, you know what I mean, so it’s different. Atlanta was the most emotional place for me to come back as a player, but this is a whole other level for me. You win a title, it’s like I’ve said a hundred times, it’s like you have a blood transfusion. And then you fall in love with the city, and I did. That’s why I go back still in the summer.”
He returned three times last offseason, after the tangled split with the Celtics led to being traded to the Clippers for a first-round pick in 2015. Some of the trips were strictly social, to take golf money from friends. Some of it was to stay connected with a favorite charity, ABCD, a group that works to help people overcome poverty.
And now he returns as the coach who asked out because he didn’t want to go through a rebuild, even though it was easy to see one coming when Rivers signed an extension about two years earlier. He is tired of rehashing the exit – “I’m here, Danny’s there and everybody’s happy. It doesn’t have to be anything bad. It all turned out good for everybody.” But this will be the first time for mass public feedback.
Maybe fans loudly cheer Wednesday night in appreciation of all that went right. Maybe they show dissatisfaction for the way Rivers hit the door when things got tough.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t worry about that kind of stuff. That’s for you guys to talk about. I worry about our team trying to win the game, going back and seeing some of the players and Danny and Tommy Heinsohn and all those guys. Everybody in that city treated me like gold.”
The stop at TD Center is part of an entire reunion tour for Rivers. It started with a visit to Atlanta last Wednesday as the beginning to a seven-game trip that goes from Boston directly to Brooklyn, to play against Garnett and Pierce the next night. That one will be emotional, too.
Still, Rivers’ mind may be somewhere other than on memory lane. His Clippers are 14-8 and have lost three of their last five, including to the Cavaliers and Hawks on a swing that finishes Saturday in Washington.