Rivers Open to 'Transitional Starting Lineup'

WALTHAM, Mass. – Doc Rivers said at the beginning of training camp that this is his time of year to experiment.

He wasn’t kidding.

The Boston Celtics have played two preseason games thus far and each have showcased drastically different starting lineups. Rivers’ comments on Wednesday insinuated that such a trend would likely continue.

“We may go to a transitional starting lineup – have three different starting lineups,” he said.

That’s right; Rivers is pondering the thought of using multiple starting lineups throughout this season. Talk about innovative and experimental.

The experiment has already begun, with Jared Sullinger and Jason Terry getting the starting nod during Sunday’s 105-75 win over Emporio Armani in Milan, Italy. Both players had solid performances, and Sullinger has received nothing but praise ever since for his ability to seamlessly fit in with the starting group.

Rivers confessed on Tuesday that we’re likely to see Sullinger in the starting lineup again, but there will be other experiments down the road, too.

“Well, I’m going to try [Sullinger in the starting lineup] a couple of games,” Rivers said. “Then I’ll throw Brandon (Bass) in, I’ll throw Darko (Milicic) in a couple of times.”

It doesn’t take long to realize that the frontline is where Rivers believes he has a major opportunity to experiment. He has plenty of pieces to move around in order to match up with specific opponents, which would allow Kevin Garnett to play both power forward and center.

“We can slide Kevin (Garnett) over to the 4 to start games the first half of the year,” said Rivers. “I don’t know if that’s a bad thing so that Kevin doesn’t have to have a wrestling match the entire season with the bigs. So there’s a lot of thought.”

Clearly. And the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.

Rivers might prevent himself from being stubborn. Why stick to one starting lineup just because that’s what everyone else does? Why not adjust on the fly so that your opponent doesn’t begin games with major mismatches? Rivers has asked himself these same questions, and that’s why he’s toying with his lineups and preparing himself for the league’s top opponents.

Hey, Lakers, are you looking to throw Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol at the C’s on Feb. 7? Well, Rivers might have an answer in his starting lineup of Kevin Garnett at power forward and Milicic, who has been a delightful surprise this preseason, at center.

How about the new-look Brooklyn Nets? They have a bruising power forward in Kris Humphries and a talented offensive center in Brook Lopez. Rivers could decide to lean on a starting frontline that features the big-bodied Sullinger and defensive stalwart Garnett.

And then there’s the Heat, who collected a championship last season with LeBron James playing power forward and Chris Bosh playing center. The Celtics could potentially have an answer for that frontline, too, with Jeff Green at power forward and KG at center.

The possibilities are endless, and although it’s not the standard approach when it comes to starting lineups, it may make sense for Rivers to consider such an experiment during the regular season.

So here’s a question: Why haven’t other coaches used this approach in the past?

The answer, most likely, is that they didn’t want to experience continuity issues. Basketball is a sport in which you must know the strengths and weaknesses of the teammates who surround you on the floor. Coaches have probably made the assumption that a revolving starting lineup would disrupt chemistry.

Rivers, however, is already planning ahead to prevent such issues. As a result, Rajon Rondo believes that using a transitional starting lineup wouldn’t be much of a challenge at all.

“It wouldn’t be tough, because that’s how we practice,” Rondo said. “Doc puts about eight or nine guys on the green team, which is the starting group.”

As you can see, these wild lineup changes aren’t happening off the cuff. Rivers is planning these out and experimenting by the day.

He hasn’t found his magic mixture just yet, and he might not anytime soon. So just sit back, watch and enjoy the show as the mad scientist continues his innovative experiment.