High Five: Rivers Agrees to Long-Term Deal
WALTHAM, Mass. – The call didn’t come until June 30 of last summer, a little later than the Celtics would have liked. In comparison, when Doc Rivers picked up the phone nearly one year later to dial the same digits, he did so with perfect timing.
Danny Ainge approached a group of media members on Friday at the team’s practice facility in Waltham, Mass., to address the Celtics’ recently-concluded 2010-11 season. But as he came within five feet of the group, Ainge’s iPhone began blaring its Marimba ringtone. He looked down, saw who was calling and then looked up at the reporters: “Sorry, guys, this is my new head coach calling…”
Ainge swiftly disappeared back into the team’s weight room for about 10 minutes before reappearing and stepping in front of the cameras. His first sentence told us all just how important that phone call was.
“I just got off the phone with Doc and we agreed to a five-year contract extension,” he said.
It took all of two days for that conversation between Ainge and Rivers to take place this time around, but it took what felt like an eternity to evolve last season.
Rivers, who had three of his children entering their senior year of either high school or college when the 2010 NBA Finals concluded, was noncommittal after his team lost in Game 7 to the Los Angeles Lakers. He had a difficult decision to make: leave the Celtics and enjoy that precious year with his family, or continue to coach in Boston while his kids’ youth passed by.
On June 30, 2010, about two weeks after the Celtics narrowly missed their 18th championship, Rivers committed to return for the 2010-11 season. It was a long process that, when concluded, was the first step during Boston’s busy summer of rebuilding.
This time around, Ainge and the Celtics simply couldn’t afford to wait that long.
“We’ve been talking since training camp, periodically,” Ainge said. “He didn’t really want to be distracted early in the year; he wanted time and I left him alone. And then it picked up about midway through the season (and) we had another conversation – no pressure, just conversation.
“I would say early in the playoffs, or as the playoffs were starting, we started that conversation again. He understood that it was sort of important for me to know what he wanted to do, because it’s a long process (to find a new coach) and there’s a lot of things going on this summer. And so he spent time with his family and made that decision a little earlier this time around.”
More like a lot earlier, and for a lot longer.
Rivers’ agreement last June was simply to return to the Celtics for the 2010-11 season and then assess where he wanted to go from there. In signing a contract on Monday, in mid-May, Rivers is now engrained into Boston’s DNA for a full half-decade to come, which likely means the end of the year-to-year media question of, “Will Doc return?”
"That was one of the reasons I wanted to do this," Rivers said Monday morning on WEEI, commenting on the yearly chatter around his future. "I hear the rumors just like you guys, with all these different teams. My thing is, I have a special team, and I have a special group of players. Why change?"
The long-term commitment means that Rivers should be on board as the Celtics transition from the current Big Three era to whatever is over the horizon. All three members of that Big Three group are under contract for next season, but Ainge professed that Rivers understands the fact that this era won’t last forever.
“I think that Doc knows – he knows the circumstances of our team as well as anybody; the players, the ages, the contracts. He gets it all,” Ainge said. “So he knows, but he wants to be a part of this franchise.”
Still, though, Rivers believes that the Celtics are in position to compete now and into the future.
"Who says that we still can’t [reload] with free agency and adding the right pieces?" asked Rivers. "While our Big Three are getting older, we have to add the right supporting cast to them. In that transition, hopefully we can still chase what we want."
Speaking of a supporting cast, Ainge believes that the organization's front office crew played a large role in Rivers' decision. Everyone from Ainge to Rivers to the team's ownership group have become close over the years, and they are able to work with each other on a daily basis with comfort and trust levels that are unparalleled.
“He wants to be working with us,” Ainge said confidently. “We have a great relationship with the owners, management and the coaching that I think is unique.”
Right now, the Celtics believe the window to win another championship is still open. Ainge, and many other Celtics onlookers, think that Boston outplayed Miami in the Eastern Conference Semifinals but squandered two wins away en route to its exit from the playoffs. So, instead of playing Game 7 tonight in Miami, they are beginning their offseason plans.
That plan starts with Rivers, and it will continue on with decisions on the players he’ll be coaching. Though Boston’s roster will likely look a bit different next season after those moves are made, the Celtics still believe they have the talent to bring home Banner 18. With today’s agreement, we now know that Rivers is the man who will attempt to lead that talent to the Promised Land.
As Ainge emerged from the weight room, he knew something, too. Six weeks earlier than last year, Ainge knows for a fact that he has the man he wants to lead his roster in the right direction, and this time it’s for the long haul.
“He’s a great leader in the face of adversity,” said Ainge, while also noting that he believes Rivers is the best coach in the league. “There’s nobody I’d rather have on my side than Doc.”