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Shaun Powell

By walking away from the Celtics after this season, Doc Rivers will get the best of both worlds.
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As Celtics near end of era, Rivers best served to leave now

Posted Apr 5 2011 10:46AM

Because he handles his timeouts as well as anyone, Doc Rivers should wait until summer and then burn his final one with the Celtics.

He should take time out from coaching -- a full timeout and not a 30-second one --and move on to bigger, and eventually better, things. There are more special moments awaiting him away from the Celtics' bench than on it, giving Rivers a luxury most coaches lack: a chance to refresh in a most refreshing way, without losing his place near the front of the line.

What would you rather do? Coach the Celtics next season, when their stars are one year older and the competition one step better? Or spend a year (or two) watching your son play at Duke while doing cushy TV work and waiting for the next great coaching gig?

All season long, Rivers has played it coy about his future. He acknowledges the satisfaction of working for good bosses and with a veteran team that buys into his philosophy. But ask him about next season and beyond and you get pretty much an almost-rehearsed answer: "We'll see."

Baseball Hall of Fame manager Branch Rickey once famously said it's better to trade a player a year early than a year late. You could apply that strategy to coaching these Celtics.

Better to leave a bit early and keep your aura than stick around in Boston for the demise of the Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen-Paul Pierce era, which may start showing cracks in a season or two.

Does KG have another high-level year in him? Of the Celtics' Big Three, he's obviously the biggest risk. If he's healthy, then yes, he can produce in 2011-12. If he doesn't, then the Celtics aren't a serious title contender. Even so, the Celtics' window is more this season than next. Boston's built to win now, which is all the more reason for Rivers to think short-term.

If he sticks around and tries to ride it out, Rivers must cope with the sensitive tendencies of KG's tendons. He must worry about protection for KG with Kendrick Perkins gone and Shaquille O'Neal soon to follow. He must deal with the quirks of Rajon Rondo -- who can be a diva -- and wonder how a franchise with a high payroll can add better pieces quickly.

And if that's not enough, there are outside factors -- specifically, those located in Chicago and Miami.

What the Bulls are building is very real and legitimate. Oddly enough, it's being done in Rivers' hometown by coach Tom Thibodeau, Doc's former lead assistant in Boston. Tibbs and the Bulls are just getting started because they're the opposite of the Celtics: their important players haven't even reached their prime. Barring the unexpected, Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah -- as well as a system built around phone-booth defense -- aren't going away anytime soon.

Same for the Heat. Say what you will about The Big Three (or The Big Two-and-a-Half), they're solid even without a center and point guard. If one or both of those positions are filled soon, watch out. The Heat will then be as great as they thought they'd be.

By taking a timeout from all that, Rivers loses nothing professionally. He already has a title. He'll avoid a decline and the messy fallout that comes with it. He can make money and demonstrate his knowledge of the game as a TV analyst, where he's proven he's solid.

Best of all, he can position himself for a plum job in the near future, which means he can go wherever Dwight Howard signs come 2012. He'd be the No. 1 candidate with a number of teams with an opening -- or without an opening.

And in the interim, he can get a great deal of personal satisfaction from becoming a fixture this fall in Durham and following his son, Austin, at Duke.

If you haven't seen him play, Doc's son is for real. Good size, range, handle and quickness. Sees the floor and knows the game. Again, nobody has a crystal ball, but if his transition to college is seamless, Austin could be one-and-done. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a parent. And even though Rivers jetted back and forth to Orlando this season to watch Austin's senior year in high school, that wears on a guy.

So that's the best case scenario. Take a timeout, do TV, watch the kid play and wait for the next job (Lakers, Heat, Knicks, etc.). Or: Maybe even coach the kid in the NBA on the next job. How does that sound, to be able to witness a new beginning?

A lot better than staying in Boston to witness the beginning of the end.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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