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David Aldridge

Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers
Under Doc Rivers, the Celtics won six Atlantic Division titles and made three Finals appearances.

Rivers departure marks end of an era for Celtics


Posted Jun 24, 2013 12:12 AM - Updated Jun 24, 2013 6:45 AM

Anyone in my business who has ever held a microphone or digital recorder loves Doc Rivers. He is personable, quotable and (mostly) available, and he is a hell of a basketball coach.

But it is impossible to feel good about his leaving the Boston Celtics for the Los Angeles Clippers.

The problem is that no one is wrong for pursuing this. There's no one to "blame." But the result isn't easy to swallow.

The deal, completed in principle Sunday night, will allow Rivers to get out of the rest of his five-year, $35 million contract with the Celtics in order to go to the Clippers. L.A. will send an unprotected 2015 first-round pick to Boston as compensation. Rivers will get a three-year, $21 million deal from the Clippers, a compromise by both sides.

A source indicated that Rivers will also have more say about basketball decisions with the Clippers than he did in Boston, where he had a good relationship with Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. But Ainge nonetheless had the final say.

The agreement ended an on-again, off-again saga that took more than a week to conclude and occasionally upstaged the recently concluded NBA Finals. Rivers' increasing angst about whether he wanted to remain in Boston dovetailed with the Clippers' need to hire a top-shelf coach to keep star free agent Chris Paul happy.

"Everyone wanted this to happen," a source involved in the talks said Sunday night.

Trades for coaches have occurred about a half-dozen times in NBA history, most recently in 2007 when the Heat received compensation for allowing Stan Van Gundy to go to the Orlando Magic.

In 1983, the Chicago Bulls sent a second-round draft pick to Atlanta as compensation for coach Kevin Loughery. The Hawks used that pick, oddly enough, to select Glenn "Doc" Rivers with the 31st overall pick.

The deal allows Ainge to bring in a coach who is more comfortable with the franchise rebuild that will now certainly start in earnest. Paul Pierce is likely to be bought out by next Sunday's deadline for $5 million, making him a free agent. Kevin Garnett is almost certain to be dealt somewhere sometime soon. Boston isn't going to go to the bottom of the Eastern Conference; with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley and Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger, the Celts still have a lot of talent to build around. But their days as a title contender are now certainly over.

Nothing wrong with Ainge trying to get as much from the Clips as possible. If Rivers was Ainge's biggest trade chip, he had to use it. If Ainge could have pulled off the Brinks' job of two first-round picks and guard Eric Bledsoe for Rivers and Garnett, which was the original offer, you could have handed him the 2013-14 Executive of the Year trophy now. And there's nothing wrong with Boston's management saving $21 million in the process.

And there's nothing wrong with the Clippers doing everything they had to do to make sure Paul had no excuse to fly the coop. As I've said many times, superstars rarely barge into the GM's office, or the owner's penthouse, and make demands. They don't have to.

The Clippers knew what they had to do to make Paul happy -- replace Del Negro, and fast, with one of the league's top three or four coaches. That, they have done, by passing on former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, former Nets and Pelicans coach Byron Scott and Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw -- all of whom were candidates in L.A. -- for Rivers.

It's not like other teams, like the Nets, didn't also reach out to Boston over the last couple of years to try and get permission to talk with Rivers.

The Clips are in a unique position in franchise history. For the first time ever, they'll start a season as the reigning division champs and will be expected to be better than the Lakers. They'll never be what the Lake Show is in Los Angeles, but they now have a chance to get a strong, permanent foothold in the region. In Paul and Blake Griffin, they already had two personable, talented stars; now, they have the same kind of presence on the bench.

Rivers' presence will give the Clippers gravitas with most of the local media and could be a beacon for free agents down the road -- not that they'll have much money with which to lure those players after Paul signs his expected nine-figure extension in 10 days or so.

Finally, there's nothing wrong with Rivers being interested in the Clippers. That's a two-way street; they had to reciprocate the interest and agree to send that first Boston's way, and if it hadn't worked out, who knows? Maybe Rivers would have announced Monday he was going to stay in Boston. But that didn't happen, and the idea of Doc Rivers, as good a man as there is in the game, working for Donald Sterling just feels discordant.

It feels wrong that, for whatever reason, Rivers is not going to be in Boston when the bad times come. Again, this doesn't make him unique; Vince Lombardi didn't stay long past the end of the Packers' glory days, and I don't expect Gregg Popovich to stick around the sidelines in San Antonio when Tim Duncan is finished, either.

But this is different from Ray Allen, a free agent who wasn't under contract in Boston, leaving for the Heat. Beantown fans may not have liked it, but Allen was under no obligation to stay.

Rivers could have resigned after the Celtics lost to the Lakers in the 2010 Finals, done a year's work recharging his batteries in television, then come back and signed anywhere he wanted. There would have been no problems with it here. But he stayed.

When Rivers signed the five-year deal in 2011, he insisted he would be around for the long haul, that he was resigned to the fact that Ainge would have to take a cleaver to his beloved roster in the near future. And Ainge made it clear that part of the reason Rivers was getting $7 million a year was to take some Ls down the road. A heroic playoff performance in 2012 that got the Celtics within a game of The Finals only delayed the inevitable, and Rondo's ACL tear last spring finished the job.

Of course, Rivers is allowed to change his mind, if he now viewed rebuilding as something less savory. It's just that college coaches do this all the time -- they leave one program for another, and the players are stuck where they are, only free to leave when they sacrifice a year of eligibility. Rondo could demand to be traded now, I guess, but Ainge would be under no obligation to make it happen.

Most sad is that this is the end of one of the better eras in basketball in recent years. Rivers said it a million times in huddles that our TNT coach's mics picked up: we're in this together! You can't do it alone! You have to trust each other! No hero ball!

But the fact is he is leaving Boston. It doesn't make him a bad person, but it doesn't make me happy, either.

Here lies Ubuntu, 2008-13.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. 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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